Small World: A Threat to the Construction Labor Market in Washington, D.C., Could be Felt by a Northeast Ohio Firm

Scott Suttell, Managing Editor at Crain's Cleveland Business

A Trump administration decision that stands to roil the market for construction workers in Washington, D.C., also will be felt by a Northeast Ohio firm, according to this article from The New York Times.

From the piece:
A few minutes before going to work deep beneath Washington's streets, the Salvadoran construction workers checked off the projects they had built for the city's residents: storm-water tunnels, new Metro lines and train stations, and people-movers at Dulles International Airport.

Now these workers are at risk of losing their jobs and being removed from the United States.

They are among 400,000 immigrants from six nations whose legal immigration status, based on violence or environmental disaster in their native lands, was revoked last year by the Trump administration, which argues that conditions there have improved enough for them to return.

The decision "will cause economic ripples in other cities," The Times notes, but few will feel it more directly than Washington, where about 20% of the capital's construction workers are in the United States because of the program, which is known as temporary protected status. (Most are from El Salvador, with smaller numbers from Honduras and Nicaragua. The other countries affected by the decision are Haiti, Nepal and Sudan.)

Contractors, who already face labor shortages as the economy has heated up, "warn that projects will face delays and that costs could rise if the workers are sent home or end up staying illegally."

One company concerned about the situation is Independence Excavating, a construction firm based in Independence. It also has offices in Pittsburgh, Virginia and Denver.

"If we lose them, it's not going to be easy to replace them," says Rick DiGeronimo, a vice president at Independence Excavating, which is working on several projects in the Washington area.

DiGeronimo tells The Times that about one-third of the company's workers have temporary protected status.

"We'd struggle to finish some of our jobs because there aren't workers of this quality out there," he says.

For now, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network persuaded a federal judge in San Francisco to issue a preliminary injunction blocking deportation of the 400,000 people. However, The Times notes, the Trump administration "has appealed the ruling, and legal experts say the issue could end up before the Supreme Court."

• Richard Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general, writes in The Washington Post that big tech companies "may have found their most formidable opponents: state attorneys general." In the past week, Cordray notes, "nine attorneys general have joined to examine whether Facebook has engaged in anti-competitive practices, such as stifling competitors or increasing the price of advertising. And 50 announced an investigation into potential monopolistic behavior by Google, which will likely include scrutiny of its search and advertising businesses." The investigations "come against a backdrop of existing regulatory activity by the federal government and European antitrust authorities that continues to ramp up," Cordray writes, adding that states' growing interest in reviewing the antitrust practices of the tech firms "is particularly bad news for the companies. Having so many officials on the case means the investigation will take on a life of its own and will outlast any federal administration — meaning Facebook and Google's legal headaches won't be solved any time soon."

• Three U.S. senators, including Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, want Inc. to stop working with delivery contractors that violate labor laws by imposing unfair conditions on drivers delivering packages for the e-commerce company. Reuters reports that the senators, in a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, were responding to reports that alleged Amazon pressured contractors and more broadly avoided regulatory scrutiny. Amazon said in a statement it had taken steps to ensure "a strong safety and labor compliance record across our transportation network of employees and contractors, and we continue to drive improvements that benefit our transportation providers, our customers and the public." In addition to Brown, the letter was signed by Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

• This post from the PR Newswire MediaBlog highlights interesting work being done at 10 college newspapers in the United States and Canada, and one of them is The Oberlin Review at Oberlin College. From the piece: Founded in 1874, The Oberlin Review is one of the oldest college newspapers in the U.S., with circulation of about 2,000 on and off the campus. While the print edition only is available during the academic year, articles are available and updated online year-round and content may be submitted by both students and residents of Oberlin. Recently (in June), the newspaper broke tradition and published a passionate and critical editorial against the media and its portrayal of the legal repercussions stemming from a racially charged conflict between Oberlin students, the college itself and owners of a local bakery. The blog post notes that college newspapers "face many of the same challenges as other print publications outside campus walls," including "rising costs and reduced ad revenue," which means "many student-run papers must choose between reducing publication frequency, charging readers for their print publications or online sites, launching crowdfunding campaigns, requesting donations from alumni or others, or — often as a last resort before moving to online only or shuttering entirely — depending on their institutions to provide financial support."

• Ohio has one of the "10 most charming, wacky and delicious state fairs in America." So says Thrillist, which profiled the fairs that it believes offer the best mix of food and fun. The Ohio State Fair, held each year in late July or early August, offers delicacies including "pork butt tots, deep-fried tofu and the Extremely Ohio buckeye funnel cake," Thrillist says. "You can get your deep-fried mac 'n' cheese either in ball form or On A Stick form. It seems someone has also taken gummy worms, made them into tiny burger patties, deep-fried them, as is the law this time of year, and finished them off with Fruity Pebble cereal topping." Thrillist also admires the fair's Butter Cow, which this year featured a Butter Apollo 11 Crew."

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