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Construction companies protest Biden’s order for labor deals on federal projects

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As building trades union leaders hailed President Biden’s pro-union policies and serenaded him with cries of “Joe! Joe! Jo!” Hundreds of companies that employ construction workers hit back with the opposite message last week.

Almost simultaneously as Biden praised “project work agreements” (PLAs) at the North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU) Legislative Conference, a letter from the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC ) accused him of “taking a dangerously partisan approach” because he promotes these agreements.

Labor and management, like Democrats and Republicans, often disagree. Biden describes himself as a “union president” and thanks Labor for his election victory. ABC’s letter to President and Vice President Harris is the latest in a series of protests from management and the GOP against its advocacy of worker-friendly deals on federal construction projects.

Although widely misunderstood in general, project work agreements are highly controversial in political and construction circles. Biden pushed the agreements in an executive order that defines them as “a pre-employment collective agreement with one or more labor organizations that establishes the terms of employment for a specific construction project.”

The order, signed to much fanfare at a high-profile event in February in Upper Marlboro, will apply to construction work worth at least $35 million funded directly by the federal government. Even with a few exceptions, the ordinance’s support for unions is explicit: “Agencies must require every contractor or subcontractor engaged in construction” to “become party to a project work agreement with one or several appropriate trade union organisations”.

Biden’s strong support for collective bargaining was demonstrated in government on Tuesday when Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja issued additional guidelines making it easier to organize among federal employees.

Addressing last week’s union meeting at the Washington Hilton, Biden said the agreements help “ensure that the people building big projects are well-trained, highly skilled workers who have a voice on the job site.”

But ABC, the building contractors organization, focused on the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package that Biden has pushed and argued that his order defies Congressional intent of the legislation. Project working agreements, according to the letter, could “affect the allocation of a significant portion of these funds. ABC and our members are concerned that this EO (Executive Order) will limit the ultimate success of the bipartisan bill and the communities it is meant to benefit.

The order applies to little in the infrastructure package. “Only a very small percentage” of infrastructure projects are directly funded by federal contracts, according to an email from the White House. Subsidies, which finance the “overwhelming majority” of infrastructure works, are not covered by the presidential decree.

However, ABC’s complaints about the project’s working arrangements extend far beyond the infrastructure package. The contractors say the binding agreements increase construction costs and “effectively prevent many small women-, veteran- and minority-owned construction companies and their workforces from participating in government-funded construction projects.” federal”.

The 18-page letter included less than two pages of text. The remaining pages contained 1,200 signatures from member companies and ABC chapters, according to the contractors’ organization.

“Put simply,” the letter adds, “hard-working taxpayers receive less and pay more when PLAs are encouraged or mandated when procuring federal construction projects and aided by the federal government.”

NABTU President Sean McGarvey couldn’t disagree more.

“Project work agreements address labor supply issues… set good wages, promote high health and safety standards and ensure that large-scale projects are completed on time, with the most high degree of quality, efficiency and safety. The benefits of APL for workforce development are unparalleled,” he said. “As a result, these agreements are proven to boost local economies, redress inequalities and uplift marginalized communities, and deliver substantial and direct cost savings by standardizing contract terms across different trades. Indeed, many blue chip companies such as Microsoft, Google, Toyota, Disney and others have recognized the value of using PLAs for their construction projects.

To ABC’s accusation that Biden’s support for the accords is “dangerously partisan,” McGarvey’s email noted that “bipartisan support for the PLA is demonstrated by the fact that the past two administrations have maintained executive orders encouraging the use of project work agreements on major federal government projects. building projects.”

Ben Brubeck, vice president of ABC, pointed to the optional nature of the Obama administration’s labor agreement policy, which the Trump administration has continued. “This order does not require an executive agency to use a project work agreement on any construction project,” Obama’s directive said.

“All we want is fair and open competition,” Brubeck said in an interview.

ABC called on then-President-elect Donald Trump to rescind Obama’s order. Trump hasn’t responded, Brubeck said, but neither has he mandated or pushed for deals for federal projects.

Although Biden’s order is stronger than Obama’s, it allows agencies several exceptions. Senior agency officials can avoid using a project work agreement, according to Biden’s order, if, for example, it “significantly reduces the number of potential bidders so as to frustrate full and open competition.” .

Moments before Biden signs his executive order, the president said it will “help ensure that we build a better America, we build it right, and we build it on time, and we build it cheaper than it costs.” would have been otherwise.”

The agreements, he added, “ensure that major projects are managed by well-trained, well-prepared and highly skilled workers, and they avoid problems. They resolve disputes ahead of time, ensuring safer jobsites, avoiding disruptions and work stoppages that can lead to costly delays down the line.


Washington

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