- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2001

The White House yesterday disagreed with a federal judge's pro-labor ruling against President Bush as unions and Maryland officials began negotiating a new labor agreement for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement project.

Justice Department officials said they are reviewing whether to contest U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan's decision. Union representatives say they expect a legal battle.

The judge on Monday issued a preliminary injunction against an executive order issued by Mr. Bush barring project labor agreements (PLAs) on federally funded projects, saying the president exceeded his authority under the National Labor Relations Act. The 1935 law protects the rights of workers to join unions.

"We believe that the executive order is appropriate and legal and that promoting efficiency and fairness in government contracting is the right thing to do," said White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan.

A hearing on whether to lift the preliminary injunction is scheduled for Sept. 13 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

"It's still under review what our next step will be," said Obern Rainey, Justice Department spokeswoman. "We're reviewing the opinion."

However, the attorney for the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO labor federation, which filed the lawsuit asking for the injunction, said she expects a tough fight with the Justice Department.

"They definitely will fight us at the September 13 hearing," said Victoria Bor. "I have absolutely no reason to believe they're not going to pursue the case to the end. I think this is a sufficiently important issue to them that they would appeal."

Despite the legal maneuvers, work on the $2.2 billion bridge reconstruction continues.

PLAs require all employers on a project to follow common work rules. The Wilson Bridge PLA announced in January required both union and nonunion contractors to follow union rules on work hours, pay scale and grievances and to use a union hall for hiring new employees. In return, the unions agreed not to strike.

The labor agreement caused a dispute between Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who insisted on using a PLA, and Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, who refused. The two states are paying for the portion of the construction not funded by the federal government.

Mr. Bush's Feb. 17 executive order resolved the dispute by forbidding PLAs, at least until Judge Sullivan's Monday ruling.

"This executive order was a direct attack on all building trades members," said Edward Sullivan, Building and Construction Trades Department president.

The judge's ruling applies only to the Wilson Bridge, not all PLAs.

Opponents of PLAs say the Wilson Bridge agreement could drive up construction costs, but supporters say it would ensure labor peace.

The new labor pact will include only "minor modifications" to the agreement reached earlier this year between Maryland and unions, according to state transportation officials.

Other provisions of the original agreement forbid lockouts by employers, provide nonunion firms with the right to mix union and nonunion workers in composite crews and ensure job protections for minority contractors and employees.

Mr. Bush said his executive order would help reduce construction costs and give nonunion bidders an equal chance at winning contracts.

The negotiations that began yesterday between union and state officials are intended to update the previous agreement.

"It's my understanding that what they need to do is make some minor modifications to the project labor agreement that was made last year," said Maryland Department of Transportation spokesman Jack Cahalan. "There was a great deal of work done on the agreement last year."

Both union and state officials said they would not discuss details until the agreement is completed.

In his written opinion, Judge Sullivan accused Mr. Bush of interfering with Maryland's rights to act for the benefit of its citizens.

"An injunction would further the public interest because, absent an injunction, the state of Maryland is prohibited from proceeding with its portion of the Wilson Bridge construction in the manner it has determined will best serve the interest of its citizens," the judge wrote.

Judge Sullivan was appointed U.S.district judge for the District of Columbia in July 1994 by President Clinton.

Among his decisions, he ruled in April that Linda Tripp, a former White House aide and Monica Lewinsky scandal whistle-blower, could sue former Clinton administration officials she accused of harassing her. He also is overseeing the trial of Russell Eugene Weston Jr., accused in the 1998 shooting deaths of two Capitol Police officers.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide