Will Border Wall Bring Construction Jobs?

From labor disputes cases to labor and employment publications, for your research, you’ll find solutions on Bloomberg Law®. Protect your clients by developing strategies based on Litigation...

By Jaclyn Diaz

President Donald Trump made clear Jan. 25 that he intends to follow through with his plan to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Labor leaders say the implications for construction jobs are still fuzzy.

“Building this barrier is more than just a campaign promise, it’s a common sense first step to really securing our porous border,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said. “This will stem the flow of drugs, crime, illegal immigration into the United States. And yes, one way or another, as the president has said before, Mexico will pay for it.”

Trump signed an executive order indicating that it is his administration’s policy to “secure the southern border of the United States through the immediate construction of a physical wall.” Later in the order, “wall” is defined as “a contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier.”

Any job creation will be minimal and temporary at most, Marc Scribner, the Competitive Enterprise Institute senior fellow on infrastructure, told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 25. The Competitive Enterprise Institute is a nonprofit libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C.

Jobs Won’t Hang Around

Building the wall won’t be a particularly labor-intensive project and thus won’t need as many bodies to erect it, Scribner said. “This won’t stimulate employment and there will be no long-term employment effect,” he said. Any argument this project could be a job creator is “bogus,” Scribner said.

A representative from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers also expressed doubt about the border plan creating union jobs.

“There is a possibility that some of the work could end up with union craftsmen, but I would be skeptical with the proximity to the border and the relatively basic skill level that will be required to build a wall,” Brian Condit, the director of special projects for the IBEW Local 611 in New Mexico, told Bloomberg BNA.

So far, Trump hasn’t released a detailed project outline of the design, how much the wall will cost and what the labor force will look like. The design or type of material used to construct the wall won’t have much of an affect on workforce either way, Scribner said.

Trump could use a fencelike barrier or might construct permanent buildings along the border, but regardless of the materials used, “it still will result in very temporary construction jobs,” Scribner said.

The lack of specifics about the project may have contributed to labor unions’ refusal to discuss the executive order Jan. 25. Representatives from the AFL-CIO, Steelworkers, North America’s Building Trades Unions and the Alliance for American Manufacturing declined Bloomberg BNA’s requests for comment.

USA ‘Gets Back Control.’

“A nation without borders is not a nation. Beginning today, the United States of America gets back control as it gets back its borders,” Trump said during a visit to the Department of Homeland Security after signing the executive order.

The wall is set to cover all land borders between the U.S. and Mexico, including all points of entry, according to the executive order. The White House reiterated Trump’s campaign platform that Mexico will pay for the wall during the Jan. 25 press briefing announcing the president’s intention to sign the order later in the day.

While the prospect of union construction jobs is uncertain, the wall looks to be a benefit to another group of workers: The executive order calls for the hiring of 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents.

Trump announced a hiring freeze for federal employees on Jan. 23. That order made exemptions for military personnel and civilian positions that federal agencies deem “necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jaclyn Diaz in Washington at jDiaz@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Request Labor & Employment on Bloomberg Law