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President Overturns Bush Ban on Federal PLAs

February 11, 2009

Construction workers across the United States won an important victory February 6 when President Barack Obama issued an executive order that overturns a ban on project labor agreements on federally funded-projects put in place eight years ago by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

“Your action will now enable federal agencies to improve the efficiency, productivity and fairness of their construction projects, while also eliminating costly labor-related delays,” wrote Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, President Mark Ayers in a letter to President Obama.

PLAs, which set work rules and wage rates through a collective bargaining agreement between contractors and the building trades before construction begins, had been in use for nearly 70 years on federal projects before Bush’s 2001 order.

The building trades, many contractors and state and local leaders argue that PLAs are the most efficient and cost-effective way to complete large construction jobs. “It allows contractors to do serious long range planning,” said Denver, Local 68 Business Manager Dennis Whalen. “It gives each side input into the project; it’s just a better and more productive way to get the work done.”

Bush’s decision made it difficult for locals and signatory contractors to market themselves to state and local governments for large projects. “After 2001, we would hear about city leaders who liked what a PLA could offer them in terms of time, money and security for their job but turned it down because they didn’t want to lose out on federal money,” said Construction and Maintenance Department International Representative Kirk Groenendaal.

By setting fair wage scales and creating conflict resolution mechanisms, PLAs provide stability and structure to future federal construction projects, a vital necessity with potentially billions of dollars of government-sponsored construction coming down the road as part of Obama’s economic stimulus plan.  

The executive order also holds open the possibility for the expanded use of PLAs on federal jobs. It calls on the Office of Management and Budget to make a recommendation in six months on whether increased usage of PLAs would “promote the economical, efficient and timely completion of such projects.”

The president’s action comes on top of three pro-worker executive orders he issued last week:

  • Reversing a Bush decision requiring federal contractors to post notices telling workers they can limit their financial support for their union.
  • Preventing companies under federal contract from using government funds for anti-union activity. 
  • Giving any worker employed by a federal contractor first-bid rights on their job if another company takes over the contract

“Anyone who doesn’t think elections matter should take a look at what Obama has managed to do for working families in only his first few weeks,” said International President Edwin D. Hill. “These decisions go a long way to reversing the war on unions carried out by the Bush administration.”

Obama also announced the creation of a White House Task Force on Middle Class Working Families, chaired by Vice President Joe Biden. The task force is composed of top White House policy officials that are focused on developing initiatives to grow the middle class and raise the standard of living for working families. Its Web site, www.strongmiddleclass.gov, has a section where workers can submit their own ideas and personal experiences about today’s economy.