- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2022

President Biden signed an executive order on Friday giving labor unions a massive boost by requiring union labor and work rules on all major federal construction projects.

The order will mandate that all federal construction projects over $35 million must use “project labor agreements.” The agreements are collective bargaining pacts between unions and contractors which set wages, employment conditions and dispute resolution.

Speaking at Iron Workers Local 5 in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, Mr. Biden said the executive order will save taxpayer money because, under the project labor agreements, or PLAs, potential conflicts will be ironed out ahead of time.



“When big construction projects are completed efficiently with the highest degree of professionalism, it’s good for the American taxpayer,” he said.

Mr. Biden’s order will apply to $262 billion of federal construction contracts and impact nearly 200,000 workers, the White House said.

Those totals will likely surge because the federal government is set to begin a massive building spree following the passage of Mr. Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

The order went into effect immediately after it was signed at an event featuring labor leaders, Vice President Kamala Harris and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.

Unions have long argued for PLAs, saying they can smooth out potential conflicts ahead of construction. Critics counter that they make construction more expensive.

PLAs have become somewhat a ping-pong ball between different administrations. Democratic presidents require them for federal contracts and Republican presidents don’t. 

Former President George W. Bush barred government-mandated PLAs on federal projects, but that order was revoked by former President Barack Obama in 2009. Although business groups pressured former President Donald Trump to rescind the Obama order, there is no record of a PLA used on a large federal project during his administration, according to data from the Associated Builders and Contractors.

ABC also found that just 12 projects that were 100% federally funded used a PLA during Mr. Obama’s eight years.

A 2012 report from the Congressional Research Service found “inconclusive” data on whether PLAs raise construction costs.

The executive order is the latest effort to boost labor unions by Mr. Biden, who has often claimed that he is leading the most pro-union administration in history.

“I promised you that you’d have a union president and I am because you are the best,” Mr. Biden. “You guys really are the best workers in the world.”

Mr. Biden has featured union officials prominently at public events, including touring union plants to promote his initiatives. He publicly supported Amazon workers in Alabama who were trying to unionize.

The president has also pushed for pro-labor provisions in his legislative proposals, including his infrastructure plan, COVID-19 relief package, and his $1.75 trillion climate and social spending proposal that has stalled in Congress.

Mr. Biden has credited unions with launching his political career and helping him win some midwestern states in the 2020 presidential election.

Labor unions praised the executive order.

“This order prioritizes safety, value, quality, and on-time delivery of our federal projects built with a highly skilled and trained workforce,” said David Long, chief executive officer of the National Electrical Contractors Association.

“Many private owners across America utilize PLAs, and federal agencies have seen the value that these agreements provide, bringing success to construction projects across the U.S. This ensures American tax dollars are going toward federal construction projects that will be completed at the highest standard,” Mr. Long said.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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