On November 15, 2021, President Biden signed into law the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)which reauthorizes surface transportation funds and allocates $550 billion for new federal spending over the next five years. The $550 billion in new spending encompasses:

  • $73 billion for upgrades to the country’s electricity grid, including the ability to carry renewable energy; 
  • $66 billion for new rail lines and upgrades to existing ones, including a significant investment in Amtrak to address major maintenance backlogs; 
  • $65 billion to improve the nation’s broadband infrastructure and provide high-speed internet access to hard-to-reach populations, including Native American communities;
  • $47 billion for climate resiliency, which involves new funding aimed at combating wildfires and preparing coastal regions for more frequent hurricanes and flooding;
  • $21 billion for environmental projects, which includes investments in cleaning up abandoned mines, contaminated waterways, and other polluted sites overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency;
  • $15 billion to modernize water systems to address contaminated drinking water that has affected multiple large population centers;
  • $7.5 billion for electric vehicles, including the availability of charging stations across the country, which is part of President Biden’s pledge to build 500,000 stations nationwide; and 
  • $2 billion for a grant program aimed at expanding transportation projects in rural areas.

Use of the public funds to clear backlogs at the country’s ports, which are contributing to shipping delays and price increases in imported consumer goods, have already been announced. The remaining initial set of spending authorized by the IIJA will be issued towards two concerns prioritized by the current administration: improvement to access of broadband internet and replacement of hazardous lead drinking pipes.

The passage of the IIJA provides exciting opportunities for construction industry professionals, not just in the traditional sectors of road, bridge, and rail repair and construction, but also emerging sectors such as climate resiliency and electric vehicle infrastructure. The full distribution of IIJA funds and its impact on the construction industry will only gradually be felt by the industry over the next five years, as the administration plans to focus on determining and funding “shovel-worthy” projects in addition to funding “shovel-ready” projects. Continue to tune in to the Construction Law Zone for updates on this important new law.

This post was co-authored by Abby M. Warren and Emily A. Zaklukiewicz who are members of Robinson+Cole’s Labor and Employment Group.

Last month, President Biden issued an Executive Order which effectively imposes several COVID-19 safety standards and protocols, including mandatory vaccination, upon certain federal contractors and subcontractors. Specifically, the Executive Order directs federal agencies to incorporate a clause into all covered federal contracts which will require federal contractors or subcontractors to comply with guidance published by the White House’s Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (Guidance), and which was released on September 24, 2021.  Under the Executive Order and Guidance, certain construction and other companies doing business with the federal government will soon be required to mandate vaccination for their workforces and ensure compliance with masking and social distancing requirements, among other requirements. Continue Reading Mandatory Vaccination and Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors

While you may not have heard the term “slaughter clauses” to describe the provisions of a construction contract before, the metaphor makes sense when one considers the provisions to which the Connecticut Superior Court recently applied the phrase. In the recent case of Electrical Contractors, Inc. v. Lawrence Brunoili, Inc., et al., Docket No: X-07 HHD CV-20-6129731, the Superior Court considered many subcontractors’ least favorite contract provisions – those that impose limits on a subcontractor’s right to recover money, like strict notice provisions, payment limitations, and damages restrictions. Continue Reading Connecticut Superior Court Holds That “Slaughter Clauses” Cannot be Added to Public Works Subcontracts Under Connecticut General Statutes § 4b-96

Below is an excerpt of an article published in Construction Executive on September 9, 2021.

The prices of raw building materials have risen dramatically over the past year, primarily because of the global pandemic and trade policies implemented by the previous administration, thereby jeopardizing construction projects that did not mitigate the risks of material price escalation.

Material price escalation is not new to the construction industry, which has experienced historic periods of price escalation known as commodities supercycles, often referred to as periods of time when commodity prices rise above their long-term trends for at least 10 years followed by a downturn of similar duration until supply meets demand. The industrialization of the United States in the late nineteenth century, the post-war reconstruction of Europe and Japan in the 1950s, the oil embargos of the 1970s and the industrialization of emerging nations such as China in the early 2000s are identified as commodities supercycles.

Over the past few months, commodities traders and economists have debated whether a new commodities supercycle is underway as raw material prices continue to rise. The Producer Price Index for July 2021 published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Statistics, reported for the 12 months ended in July on an unadjusted basis, that the final demand index increased 7.8%, the largest advance since such data was first calculated in November 2010 and that the final demand index less foods, energy and trade services rose 6.1%, the largest increase since such data was first calculated in August 2014.1

Over the past 12 months ended in July, the price of natural gas is up 146.7%, steel mill products are up 108.6% and crude petroleum and unprocessed energy materials are up 102.9% and 93.8%, respectively. The price of softwood lumber is now up 45.0% after decreasing significantly over the past two months.

While history and the market dictate that prices will eventually come down, it is unclear when or if they will not continue to rise as did the price of copper when it quintupled from 2000 to early 2011. Accordingly, it is in the best interests of all stakeholders – owners, contractors, subcontractors and suppliers – to mitigate risks associated with material price escalation on construction projects. Read the article.

While its ultimate passage remains unclear, on August 10, 2021, the United States Senate approved passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R.3684) (“the Act”). According to the bill’s sponsors, the Act aims to accomplish the following: Continue Reading Public Works Construction Projects Set to Increase if Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 Becomes Law

Below is an excerpt of the “Legal Column” published in the Summer 2021 issue of PE Magazine, the flagship publication of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE).

Prior to COVID-19, the term “design to budget” was probably not a scary concept. After all, modern designers always consider the client’s budget when putting our Leroy pens to paper. However, given skyrocketing material costs and the postpandemic challenges of the current labor market, the obligation to design to budget can be an unsuspected and sometimes overlooked source of exposure. In this article, we’ll look at some of the provisions in the standard industry contracts and consider how they can affect designers’ exposure for construction cost overruns. Read the article.

Robinson+Cole’s Construction Group hosted its fifth Construction Industry Roundtable on June 15, 2021. The Roundtable was conducted virtually for the second year in a row, which allowed representatives of major design and construction industry organizations and stakeholders throughout the Northeast to participate. The discussion focused on the state of the regional market, nationwide trends, and what to watch for in 2022.

The Roundtable opened with a presentation on modular construction from Tom Hardiman, the Executive Director of the Modular Building Institute.  Modular construction is a delivery process that shifts some construction to off-site locations and fabrication sites. Mr. Hardiman noted that the modular industry market share has doubled in the last five years from about 2 percent of new construction starts in the U.S. to about 4 percent, and he expects that growth to accelerate. He highlighted the benefits and challenges of modular construction. The advantages derive largely from the more controlled setting of offsite work, increasing worker safety and efficiency while limiting waste and on-site congestion. The market conditions that have driven growth in modular construction include a shortage of skilled labor, continued pressure to deliver on time and on schedule, increasing demand for environmentally-friendly construction, a heightened focus on worker safety, and the growing needs in groups amenable to modular construction, such as housing and healthcare infrastructure. Particularly in areas of high housing costs, modular construction may provide a cost-efficient alternative to traditional construction.

The ensuing discussion highlighted industry conditions that operate to maintain the status quo and hinder greater use of modular construction. Labor laws and most construction contracts are designed for site-built construction. Prevailing wage laws and local building codes with inspection and supervision requirements contemplate a delivery model in which labor is local and city officials can easily access in-progress construction. In fact, New York City recently considered, but did not pass, a bill that would have required continuous supervision of modular construction by NYC-licensed inspectors, regardless of the location of modular construction. Such laws threaten the feasibility of cost-efficient modular construction. The modular industry and ANSI (the American National Standards Institute) are working to develop standards for review of off-site construction.  If no uniform standard is adopted, and it were left by default to local building codes, which differ materially across the country, compliance by regional, national and international modular suppliers would only continue to be a challenge.

Other challenges include a lack of quality contract forms for modular construction delivery (although the recently-released ConsensusDocs 753 is a promising start).  Without industry-tested and accepted contracts and usage, some owners, general contractors, and construction managers simply may view significant off-site construction as too risky. Mr. Hardiman also noted that although there are about 125 factories across the U.S. and Canada, each of which can ship within 500 miles with reasonable efficiency and shipping costs, factories suited to specific project types are not always available in the geographic area of the project.

The Roundtable next discussed the topic of price escalation and market impacts. The group noted that price escalation affects the current prices of not only lumber, steel and other materials, but also skilled labor. With limited options for contractors to get relief for increased material costs on projects already under contract, increasing attention is being paid to escalation (and de-escalation) clauses in contracts. Some attendees noted that projects in their markets are being put on hold because of cost escalation, some at the recommendation of construction managers. When the original program becomes too expensive, owners and developers are faced with the difficult decision of whether to buy less building or attempt to extend the life of current buildings through adaptive reuse. There was optimism in the group that costs will drop again this year; there already is evidence that lumber prices are going down as COVID-19 restrictions start to lift.

The Roundtable weighed in on the potential passage of a federal infrastructure package. Most agreed that the infrastructure bill would not pass in the form that originally had been proposed, but all hoped that something could be passed. Most believed that any passed infrastructure bill would likely include green construction. Some already have observed contractors in their regions preparing for infrastructure procurement by teaming up with major players from Europe who have more experience with green construction. For many large design-build projects, whether green or not, contractors will be teaming up. Workforce will likely be the largest concern in implementing projects under any eventual infrastructure bill. With pre-pandemic labor shortages that have not improved, there will need to be a larger workforce to meet the demands of an infrastructure bill.

The other major federal legislation discussed, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, was a significant concern to several in the group. While there has been some discussion as to potential compromises related to the bill, all agreed that it is unlikely to go anywhere this year in its current form. Some senators from non-union states face little public pressure to pass it and the breadth of the PRO Act has led many organizations, both inside and outside of the construction industry, to oppose the bill.

The Roundtable concluded with participants sharing recent programs and initiatives in their sectors to promote diversity and inclusion within the design and construction industry. All participants recognized the need for the construction industry to redouble its efforts to appeal to people of diverse backgrounds. It was emphasized that the industry needs to do a better job of recruiting from diverse neighborhoods and opening access points to the industry at all levels, especially considering the general labor shortage. Many firms and groups have taken concrete steps to support equity, diversity, and inclusion, and even arbitration panels are becoming more diverse.  Steps have been taken to examine the impact of various state set-aside laws, and hiring practices are changing to better promote a diverse workforce. The group agreed that it is important to continue this discussion and for all involved to take affirmative steps to continue and accelerate progress on this front.

Robinson+Cole would like to thank all those who attended for joining us and sharing their valuable insights. We hope to continue to grow these discussions in the future.

Below is an excerpt of an article co-authored by Megan Baroni and Jon Schaefer and published in Construction Executive on May 26, 2021. Megan and Jon are partners in Robinson+Cole’s Environmental, Energy + Telecommunications Group.

There are a number of best practices that an employer may wish to follow when faced with any Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspection, including:

  • determining the reason for the inspection;
  • obtaining a copy of the complaint;
  • designating an employee representative;
  • accompanying the inspector on the visit;
  • documenting the inspector’s findings;
  • providing requested documents; and
  • being prepared for follow-up.

But how are these best practices complicated by a global pandemic? Over the past year, COVID-19 has brought changes to construction workplaces and to OSHA’s inspection and enforcement focus. The construction industry has kept moving in the face of these challenges, but COVID-19 has and will continue to impact workplaces, and workplace procedures, into the future. Read the article.

When a party to a construction contract is faced with nonperformance of another party, often the desire to keep the project moving takes precedence in responding to the performance default. Problems arise, however, when the party who is owed the performance acts without first considering the terms and conditions of the written instruments governing the parties’ relationship on the project. For example, a construction contract may require the posting of payment and performance bonds guaranteeing, among other things, the performance of the bonded contract work by obligating the guarantor – a surety – to arrange for the completion of the work.  Where a party fails to perform as promised, the party promised the performance should first review the language of both the construction agreement and any associated surety bonds before taking action, so as not to lose the benefits of the contract and/or bonds, as was the case in Arch Ins. Co. v. Graphic Builders, LLC, No. CV 19-12445-NMG, 2021 WL 534807 (D. Mass. Feb. 12, 2021).

Continue Reading Obtaining the Benefits of a Performance Bond: Tread Carefully

This post was co-authored by Abby M. WarrenAlisha N. Sullivan and Emily A. Zaklukiewicz who are members of Robinson+Cole’s Labor, Employment, Benefits + Immigration Groups.

Although millions of people in the United States have been vaccinated since COVID-19 vaccine distribution began in December 2020, a large percentage of the population still remains unvaccinated. Many lawmakers and companies are brainstorming ways to remove barriers to individuals obtaining the vaccine, especially frontline workers who remain at a higher risk of COVID-19 exposure and infection. One such barrier is the time away from work that may be required to obtain the vaccination and the risk that the time will be unpaid. Many employers, including contractors, are questioning whether they must, or should, provide employees with paid time off for time spent related to obtaining the COVID-19 vaccine. Continue Reading Are Employers Required to Pay For Employee Time Spent Receiving COVID-19 Vaccine?