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Remarks as prepared for Administrator Carnahan at Sheet Metal Air Rail Transportation (SMART) Union on August 2, 2023

Thank you, General President Coleman, for that warm welcome and to the entire SMART team for putting together such an impressive conference. And thanks to my terrific escort committee and all the folks from the SMART Women’s Committee as well as friends from my home state of Missouri, including Local 36.  I’ve been to Local 36 many times over the years, but it’s been a while, so I look forward to getting back for a visit and learning more about your work, especially around job training for both apprentices and journeymen.

Through the course of my career, I’ve had the great honor  to work side-by-side with labor leaders both in Missouri and nationally.  Before President Biden appointed me as Administrator of GSA, I served on the board of the Union Labor Life Insurance Company.  ULLICO is the labor-owned insurance and investment company that’s been protecting American workers and their families for 95 years…since the days of Samuel Gompers.

It’s a remarkable success story. 100% union owned…and 100% focused on both protecting union members and their families and making sure that the workers who build infrastructure projects share in the benefits of owning a piece of those projects when they’re finished.

So it’s great to be back with so many friends and union brothers and sisters from across the country.  I’m grateful for the work you do every day… building out our nation’s infrastructure and keeping it safe and running efficiently all across the country.

Now, I suspect that a few of you may be wondering why, along with all the important people who've spoken to you this week – Cabinet Secretaries and Members of Congress – you’re hearing from the Administrator of the General Services Administration.

What does GSA have to do with SMART and its members? It turns out, quite a lot.

You see, GSA owns and manages one of the largest building portfolios in the country, the largest fleet of vehicles, and, along with the Department of Defense, is the largest buyer of power in the country. We also buy about $85 billion dollars worth of goods and services every year on behalf of the United States government.

So, it really is GSA’s job to help the Biden-Harris Administration deliver on its promise to Invest in America.

We’re committed to rebuilding our economy, as the President says, “from the bottom up and the middle out” and to creating more good-paying, union jobs in the process.

But, the only way we succeed in meeting the President’s ambition of rebuilding America’s middle class is by partnering with the folks in this room and the members you represent.

At GSA and all across the Administration we’re making once-in-a-generation investments that show what’s possible when we work together. They are

  • Investments designed to create good-paying American jobs that don’t require a college degree; 
  • investments that promote our national security and protect the health of our people and the planet; and, 
  • investments that will strengthen our communities and our families for generations to come.

At GSA, we’re doing that by modernizing federal facilities, in every part of the country and that means good paying American jobs… And, by the way…we want those to be good paying union jobs.

Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that passed last year, we’re investing $3.4 billion to upgrade border crossings that are so critical to our national security and our economy;

And thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act also passed last year, we’re investing in more sustainable building materials and updating HVAC and air handling systems that both improve air quality to create healthier buildings, but also boost demand for US made products.

We’re also promoting American innovation by integrating sustainable and emerging technology into our buildings.

And we’re improving building efficiency which cuts energy consumption and cuts costs and saves money for taxpayers.

We estimate that these GSAs investments alone will create over 15,000 jobs and at least $2.8 billion in labor income.

So, the bottom line is, the President’s goal to Invest in America isn’t just a bunch of empty promises or a pie in the sky dream… it’s a reality.  Because for the first time in a generation, we’ve got both the momentum and money at the same time to get the job done.

I want to spend just a minute digging into what this means for you and your members.

First: How many of you are from a state that borders Canada or Mexico?

I mentioned that we’re investing $3.4 billion in dozens of land ports of entry to make them more secure and efficient. That’s about 6,000 jobs – and nearly all of these projects have significant HVAC work.

We’re investing another $3.4 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act in clean construction materials, emerging and sustainable technologies, and other high-performance building upgrades, like HVAC and heat pumps. That’s roughly another 9,500 jobs.

You should know that of the $3.4 billion in IRA funding, we’re using some of those federal funds to unlock even more private sector funding for Energy Savings Performance Contracts designed to accelerate the transition of our entire building portfolio of thousands of buildings to net-zero energy use and and all-electric buildings.  And this is happening all across the country.

Upgrading HVAC and air handling systems are a big part of that, along with high efficiency lighting systems and heat pumps. The total investment we expect to be around $1.9 billion and we’re going to need more well-trained SMART members to get those projects completed.

The impact of all these investments makes sense on so many levels because it…

  • Supports thousands of good paying jobs;
  • Cuts power consumptions and saves ½ billion dollars in energy costs over 10 years; and 
  • Cuts greenhouse gas emission by 2.3 million metric tons.

That’s what I like to call a triple win: creating good jobs, saving taxpayer dollars, and creating a healthier planet for our kids.

Folks, this is what President Biden’s Investing in America agenda is all about. After years of inaction on infrastructure, this Administration is delivering: with shovels in the ground, homegrown technology in our buildings, and jobs in our communities.

And it’s already happening.  We saw it when the President acted quickly to pass the CARES Act in the midst of the pandemic to prevent economic collapse and keep our country and our people safe.

Improving indoor air quality was a big priority and the Administration’s use of the new ASHRAE standards reflect that.  They’re better for the people working in the buildings and also improve operational efficiency.  So we’ll continue to need more well-trained technicians to test, adjust, and balance these systems to ensure they’re working at maximum efficiency.

How many of y’all have TABB certified folks in your Locals?

We appreciate what they're doing to help ensure our buildings are healthy, our systems resilient, and our tax money is being wisely spent.

So I want you to know that going forward we’ll be looking for more TABB certifications on our contracts because we know it represents the highest level of professional expertise in this field…exactly what we’ve come to expect from union labor.

I hope you can tell, with nearly $7 billion dollars to invest, GSA is on the front lines of Investing in America and meeting the President’s ambitious goals. The urgency of this moment couldn’t be greater for our security, our economy, and our future.

And I want you to know that as we make these investments, we’re laser focused on implementing the President’s Executive Order to expand the use of Project Labor Agreements on federal construction projects.

At GSA, we already have preferences for PLAs on projects over $25 million dollars. And we’re poised to see expanded use of PLAs for all construction projects across the government over $35 million once the final FAR rule is published later this fall.

We know this represents a WIN-WIN…PLAs are smart investments for us because they ensure our federal projects benefit from a well-trained workforce that helps deliver the high-quality facilities we expect – on-time and on-budget – and they’re a WIN for workers by ensuring they’re paid fair wages and benefit from safe and fair working conditions.

But we can’t stop there. We know that y’all need to have a clearer picture of what work we have in the pipeline. That’s why we’re planning to make it easier to track acquisition opportunities and timeframes on our website - so you can better understand who and what we need for upcoming projects.

We understand that the more visibility we can give you TODAY about upcoming projects, the better prepared you’ll be to recruit and train the workforce we’ll need for those jobs TOMORROW.

This is especially important when it comes to big projects over $35 million - what we and the Department of Labor call MEGAPROJECTS. For those projects, we work closely with the Department of Labor and talk with a wide range of stakeholders, including unions and worker advocates before the prime contractor is selected.

Since these projects involve not just a lot of money but also a lot of work hours, it’s especially important to focus on removing hiring barriers and ensuring access to a diverse pool of workers.

Because good jobs are about more than just a fair wage…it’s also about having safe working conditions and equal opportunity to succeed without the risk of discrimination.

So we’re focused on leveling the playing field for qualified people of all backgrounds, including women, people of color, veterans, and people with disabilities – because we know that to build the American economy of the future, we need the time and talent of all our people...we can’t afford to leave anyone behind.

That’s also why we’re evaluating how federal contractors do business, because we want transparency and accountability around what happens on federal job sites.

One step we’re taking toward that goal especially around prevailing wage is automating the payroll verification process. Believe it or not, the government has been using the same manual process for nearly 100 years…so automating it will save time and money for everyone and help bring better transparency and quicker enforcement actions against bad actors.

Across the Biden Administration, we’re working hard to rebuild America’s infrastructure and reinvest in our communities and our people.  And we’re looking to organized labor to be our partners.

As Administrator, I’ve talked with sheet metal workers in Boston, steelworkers in Toledo, and building operators in Oklahoma City. I’ve met with apprentices learning how to integrate solar technology into building systems and journeymen deploying the latest high-efficiency HVAC technology.  And I’ve talked to union leaders and contractors all across this country.

Just as unions led the way starting more than 100 years ago in fighting for a forty hour work week, workplace safety standards, living wages, and equity and fairness in the workplace… I’m struck by the fact that, once again, we’re witnessing how organized labor is leading our country at this moment. 

  • Organized labor is providing the skilled labor we need to actually Invest in America; 
  • Organized labor is recruiting, funding and training the next generation of American workers; 
  • Organized Labor is creating pathways to the middle class for more women and people of color than ever before. 

President Biden often reminds us that the United States is made up of possibilities and that nothing is beyond our capacity if we remember who we are and we work together. 

When I look across this room and visit job-sites across the country, I see a bright future, a future where organized labor is stepping up once again to lead…to shape our country…to create a stronger America…to open the doors of opportunity and possibility for good-paying jobs and pathways to the middle class for millions of families in every community across this land.

So, thank you. Thank you for your tireless commitment to improving the lives of working families. Thank you for being our partners at this important moment.

Let’s make the most of it. Let’s get to work.