The White House suspended more than 100 shovel-ready military construction projects in September to divert funding for a border fence, effectively killing hundreds of potential IBEW jobs.
“The Pentagon announced the suspensions Sept. 3, outlining plans to reallocate $3.6 billion in congressionally funded military construction projects around the globe to wall funding. Inside the U.S., nearly $1.8 billion of planned construction in 26 states and territories will fund about 115 miles of fencing along the southern border.
While none of the contracts for the projects had been let, more than a dozen IBEW business managers said these were the kind of jobs that signatory contractors have won in the past and hundreds of jobs are now lost.
"It was a gut blow, really," said Anchorage, Alaska, Local 1547 Business Manager Dave Reaves. "Our state's economy is in the longest recession in history. We are already facing significant job loss, and our members are already leaving the state. Federal and military construction has been a big portion of our work, especially for our inside members, and now we are looking at hundreds of jobs and thousands of man-hours lost."
Local 1547 alone is facing the cancellation of $102 million in projects scheduled to start in the next year and a half. Davis-Bacon jobs with minimum wage levels set by the Labor Department are the lifeblood of signatory contractors across the country but are especially important in open shop states where union contractors compete with low-wage, low-skill competition.
|Hill Air Force Base in Utah, above, and Naval Base Kitsap on the Puget Sound are among 42 military installations in the U.S. and territories that lost major construction projects.
Norfolk, Va., Local 80 is a small local in a right-to-work state. Three projects worth just over $67 million were canceled in its jurisdiction with the stroke of the president's pen.
"My first thought when I heard was, 'This is going to hurt us,'" said Business Manager Dennis Floyd. "It is our bread and butter doing Davis-Bacon work. We have one contractor, 80% to 90% of what they do is prevailing wage work. To cut this out, in the short term puts us out of work, and in the long term, these were important projects; killing them puts the military infrastructure at risk too."
New City, N.Y., Local 363 lost the most work, two projects worth a combined $160 million, both on the campus of the U.S. Military Academy in West Point.
"We would have had a real good shot at those jobs. With 10-15% of the contract being electric work, that's at least 60 men for about a year," said Business Manager Sam Fratto. "It has been a bit slow — we've got a few people on the book — so it's not a good thing to have any project canceled, but these are two massive projects. West Point needs those projects to continue to have a world-class military academy, and we need the paychecks."
One of the largest canceled projects was a $62 million middle school to replace the overcrowded and crumbling school on Fort Campbell, Ky. Nashville, Tenn., Local 429 business representative Mark Poole said they've had members working on base for more than a decade.
"It never got to electrical bids, so I can't say definitively that we lost work, but we have some very competitive bidders for work there and I would have been very, very confident about our chances. Very confident," he said.
A pier and maintenance facility project at Naval Base Kitsap worth just under $89 million was canceled in the jurisdiction of Seattle Local 46. Multiple signatory contractors had already bid on a sea wall extension at the base said, Local 46 business representative Barry Fulgham.
"We think we have a good shot of landing the extensions and, if we do, our chances on the other work would have been pretty good," he said.
Local 46 used to have a near lock on the work at the base, but that slipped a decade ago, Fulgham said.
"I have been aggressively trying to get our contractors out there again. This kills some of that momentum," he said.
The projects were canceled after President Donald Trump made a February declaration that "a national emergency exists along the southern border of the United States that requires the use of the armed forces." In addition to the $1.8 billion in U.S. projects, Defense Secretary Matthew Esper announced an additional $1.8 billion of overseas construction projects would be "deferred" as well.
In a letter to Congress announcing the cancellations, Esper said he wanted to work with Congress to restore funding for the projects.
"You can't run a government this way. Money is allocated for specific purposes and plans are made based on money that is allocated. That all is undone and wasted," said Government Employees Department Director Paul O'Connor, who worked for decades maintaining the U.S. Navy's nuclear submarine fleet as a member of Portsmouth, N.H., Local 2071.
And whatever word the administration wants to use to describe that status of the projects, O'Connor said the right one is "dead." The Pentagon went through a process, often yearslong at enormous expense, planning, prioritizing and preparing for specific projects. Then Congress funded those specific projects.
Why, he asked, would they put that money back when the president did an end-around Congress's constitutional authority to spend money when he's given no sign that he wouldn't do it again? "Congress will not replenish these coffers. Never," O'Connor said.