Gambling bill could rescue an industry

There has been much focus on the New Hampshire legislature’s review of Senate Bill 489, which would expand gambling in New Hampshire with slot machines and a resort casino. What has been missing from much of the debate are the voices of thousands of New Hampshire workers who benefit from this critical piece of legislation.The terrible impact of this long recession has hit every family. Even though our state’s unemployment hovers around 7 percent, there is no industry in our state more affected by unemployment than our construction industry, which currently suffers an employment rate of an astounding 30 percent. You read that number correctly. That is the reality that the construction industry and it’s talented workforce is facing today.What makes matters worse is that this industry is reliant on the success and growth of other businesses to expand and build. During these extremely tough times, the challenges of those other businesses only add to the suffering of these construction workers, since construction projects are the first items to go when all other businesses tighten their belts in response to the financial crisis.Just over this past year, construction projects have dropped over 50 percent, a trend that unfortunately continues to spiral downward with no relief in sight. The lack of construction projects available for bid has resulted in jobs being bid at lower and lower levels. This creates a whole new slew of concerns for workers, since contractors are forced to make unprecedented wage and benefit reductions.Certainly the entire private and public sector workforce has been affected in this manner and faced wage reductions of 2 to 3 percent, as well as mandated furloughs.Unfortunately, once again, the construction industry has been hit the hardest, with wages cut by 20 to 30 percent and no benefits. New Hampshire Employment Security reports that only 7 percent of the construction workforce in New Hampshire has health coverage. To make matters even worse, many construction workers don’t have any type of retirement contributions being made on their behalf.The industry has dropped to pre-2000 wages and benefits. Yet our families, like all families, must face 2010 property taxes and bills.A lot has been said about the social costs that SB 489 could create and how it could affect our quality of life. What is lost in this debate is that the social costs of extreme unemployment has already put many citizens in a helpless situation through no fault of their own — other than choosing the construction industry as their profession.Many of the same social effects that some cite impacts of excessive gambling are now already being realized by our construction workforce — broken families, lost homes and bankruptcy.I am not trying to push aside the honest concerns and reservations of people who I know and respect and who may disagree with me on this issue. What I am saying is that some perspective is needed in addressing the effects of this recession on our workforce and being aware that its effects will be felt by the taxpayer for many years to come. These unrealized consequences will someday become an absolute unattainable burden to the state of New Hampshire.Thousands of construction workers can piece their lives back together, not with handouts from the state but with a good quality job. They look to their state elected leaders to support this extremely vital jobs-creation bill.Joe Casey is president of the New Hampshire State Building Construction Trades Council.

Categories: Opinion