Nation’s Builders Chide Biden Administration on Supply Chain Crisis, Vaccine Mandates

PETALUMA, CA - JANUARY 21: A worker carries lumber as he builds a new home on January 21, 2015 in Petaluma, California. According to a Commerce Department report, construction of new homes increased 4.4 percent in December, pushing building of new homes to the highest level in nine years. (Photo …
ustin Sullivan/Getty Images

The nation’s builders, already struggling with supply chain issues, are now facing a coronavirus vaccine mandate that could make completing new home construction even more difficult.

Earlier this month the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging the White House to take action on the supply chain crisis.

An article on the Builder Online website explained the outreach to the Biden administration:

Amid concerns over volatility and continued supply chain disruptions, the NAHB submitted a letter to President Biden urging the White House to take action. The letter called for action to redouble efforts to address lumber price volatility, to address supply chain bottlenecks for lumber and other building materials, and to return to the negotiating table with Canada and develop a new softwood lumber agreement. The NAHB submitted a similar letter to the White House in January amid a period of historic lumber price escalation that negatively impacted housing affordability. As recently as July, the NAHB estimated rising material costs directly added nearly $30,000 to the average price of a new single-family home.

While lumber prices have recovered, the NAHB said cash prices for lumber have increased more than 27% over the last month and “news of mill curtailments are stoking fears of another massive price spike this fall, and next spring.” The association also highlighted how supply chain issues are causing delays and keeping home prices about 20% higher than a year ago. Ali Wolf, chief economist at Zonda, said the supply-side challenges are holding the market back from reaching its full potential.

“The buyer demand pool is robust, but builders are finding themselves in a difficult place where the cost of building a home is substantially more expensive than before the pandemic and forecasting the price of inputs going forward is nearly impossible,” Wolf said.

And now builders are waiting to see what rules Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will issue “that would force companies with more than 100 employees to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for their workers or conduct onerous weekly testing of workers who remain unvaccinated.”

An article on the NAHB website detailed how OSHA’s emergency temporary standard (ETS) would further hamper the nation’s builders and how it has reached out to the Biden administration about the vaccine mandate:

In a call with the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), NAHB said that home builders support “the President’s goal of increasing vaccinations among the population and has undertaken numerous efforts to increase worker awareness of and access to vaccines.”

But NAHB noted that the residential construction industry is at a very low risk for COVID-19 transmission. Most work is performed outdoors, and the nature of indoor tasks allow workers to remain at least six feet apart. Moreover, home building involves little contact with the public, visitors or customers during construction.

In a separate call with OIRA last week, NAHB and its partners in the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC) questioned the legal authority of OSHA to issue an ETS that requires vaccine mandates for workers. Staff noted that an ETS is permitted only upon showing there is a “grave danger” from exposure to a hazard in the workplace and the ETS is immediately needed to address the hazard. OSHA cannot make this showing in the construction industry.

The association also noted that there are many unanswered questions on how vaccine mandates would be implemented and what other requirements would be placed on businesses, including employees missing work because of a negative reaction to the vaccine and a lack of availability of testing kits.

CISC also said that the process OSHA usually uses involves getting feedback from stakeholders. 

“OSHA typically conducts listening sessions and stakeholder meetings while promulgating rules. And nearly all rules have public comment periods. But this was not the case with this ETS,” the article said.

“NAHB and CISC asked that the construction industry be exempt from the final ETS and that OSHA open the rulemaking to formal public comment,” the report concluded. “NAHB and CISC are part of a growing chorus of calls from private business to slow down the ETS process to avoid mass walkouts around the holiday season and further disrupt an already-strained supply chain system.”

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