The National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) joined with more than two dozen other housing and business groups in urging President Barack Obama to work to remove a provision in the Senate health care bill that excludes most of the construction industry from language exempting small business from a mandate requiring they provide health insurance for their workers.

"(T)his narrowly focused amendment ... will ultimately prove disastrous for an already ailing construction industry, " NLBMDA president and CEO Michael O'Brien said in a Jan. 15 news release. "The scope of the amendment language is worded in such a way as to potentially impact any small supplier, distributor or manufacturer whose business is dependent on the construction industry."

The Senate's health care bill requires companies of all types with more than 50 employees to provide health-care coverage for their workers. But language added to the manager's amendment to the Senate debate on the bill reduces that threshhold for construction workers to just five employees. In a Jan. 3 story, The New York Times said the change was added at the urging of labor unions "Without it, [the unions] said, small nonunion employers would have an unfair competitive advantage over companies that they say do 'the right thing' by providing health benefits to plumbers, electricians, carpenters, roofers and other workers in the building trades."

But the construction industry groups, in their letter, called the provision an "arbitrary carve out that targets onlysmall construction employers in an effort, it appears, to appease a very small segment of the construction industry." They quoted Census Bureau data as indicating roughly 260,000 small construction businesses could be affected.

NLBMDA's O'Brien said the provision "will only hinder the recovery of the housing economy and prevent the creation of jobs all along the supply chain, and it's happening all under the guise of health care reform."

In a related development, the NLBMDA issued its 2010 Policy Outline. In a Jan. 15 news release, the association quoted NLBMDA chairman Dan Fesler as saying the group "looks forward to working with olicymakers early in 2010 to develop new incentives for home improvements and retrofits that will restore jobs across the building supply chain. The outline also contains a number of calls to support small businesses and family-owned companies and to promote good environmental policies in construction.