- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 8, 2001

A federal judge yesterday blocked enforcement of President Bush's executive order forbidding mandatory project-labor agreements on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and other federally funded construction projects nationwide.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ruled the president "lacked the requisite authority for [the] executive order." He also said the order "in its entirety is pre-empted by the National Labor Relations Act."
The National Labor Relations Act is a 1935 federal law that guarantees workers the right to organize and join unions without management reprisal. It set up the National Labor Relations Board to enforce union rights.
Project-labor agreements are collective-bargaining agreements requiring all employers to follow common work rules on a project. Mr. Bush said when he banned them Feb. 17 that they unfairly discriminate against nonunion labor and drive up costs.
Maryland reached a project-labor agreement (PLA) with union and nonunion contractors on the $2.2 billion Wilson Bridge project requiring them to follow union rules and use a union hiring hall for some new employees. In exchange, the unions agreed not to strike.
Virginia officials, however, refused to allow a project labor agreement and threatened to hold up their share of the funding for the Wilson Bridge reconstruction, which stretches between the Virginia and Maryland sides of the Potomac River.
The Justice Department, which defended the president's executive order, plans to "review [the ruling] and then make a determination of what our next step will be," said spokesman Charles Miller. Justice can appeal to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Labor unions hailed the judge's decision as a victory for workers.
"The administration was attacking the unions and our way of doing business," said Edward Sullivan, president of the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO labor federation. "The judge's decision is a proper reading of the law."
He criticized PLA opponents as "nonunion contractors who want to drive down wages and benefits in the construction industry."
However, construction contractors said the Justice Department should appeal the court's ruling.
"What they do is shut out nonunion labor," said Scott Brown, spokesman for the Associated Builders and Contractors, a Rosslyn group representing construction companies. "Typically, you have to hire through a union hall and use outdated union work rules. It really has a negative impact on competition and it drives up costs. The people who are hurt the most are the taxpayers."
Judge Sullivan ,who was appointed by President Clinton in July 1994, ruled yesterday on a lawsuit filed April 26 by the Building and Construction Trades Department in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The labor group was joined in the lawsuit by the city of Richmond, Calif., and the Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council, which sought to use a PLA on a rapid-transit station in Richmond.
Mr. Brown mentioned the first dredging project for the Wilson Bridge as an example of why the president's executive order was a good idea. First estimates placed the cost at about $150 million. The contractors, however, completed it on schedule for $125.4 million without a project-labor agreement.
Mr. Brown blamed political maneuvering for the dispute over project-labor agreements.
"The state of Maryland has been pursuing one simply to garner favor with organized labor," he said.
The bridge reconstruction is scheduled for completion in 2011. Maryland and Virginia each pledged to contribute $200 million. But the disagreement led to delays that culminated in the president's executive order.
Judge Sullivan issued a preliminary injunction against the president's executive order Aug. 13. The Justice Department contested the injunction, which led to the judge's ruling yesterday.
Among Judge Sullivan's 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.


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