Obama signs 4th pro-union regulation; Projects must
aid Big Labor
Stephen Dinan (Contact)
February 7, 2009
President Obama on Friday quietly signed an executive order
pushing federal construction projects to favor union workers,
undoing yet another Bush administration labor rule and generating
criticism of political "payback."
The order - a substantial boost to unions - says government
contractors should favorably consider "project labor agreements,"
which carve out jobs for union workers. It overturns President
Bush's 2001 order banning PLAs, which had overturned a Clinton
order, which had overturned an order from President George H.W.
Unions said the agreements ensure certainty in both costs and
timelines, making them worthwhile for government spending.
"PLAs help build America by ensuring that projects are completed
on time and under budget, while turning jobs into careers with
good pay, benefits and skills training that open doors to new
opportunities for workers and contractors alike," said Terry
O'Sullivan, president of Laborers' International Union of North
Mr. Obama's order encourages government agencies to use PLAs on
projects costing at least $25 million, but unions said it also
directs his administration to report back to him on whether he
should go further and require PLAs for federal contracts.
Unlike each of the other 10 orders Mr. Obama has signed so far in
his young administration, the president signed this one with no
fanfare and out of the public eye.
"This executive order encouraging all federal agencies to adopt
discriminatory, union-only project labor agreements is a shameless
giveaway to Big Labor, which spent over a billion dollars to get
Obama and pro-forced-unionism Democrats elected last year," said
Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Legal
Mr. Obama has made extensive use of executive orders to undo Bush
administration policies, and on Thursday he promised congressional
Democrats he would at some point sign another order overturning
Mr. Bush's embryonic stem cell research funding policy.
"I guarantee you that we will sign an executive order for stem
cells," Mr. Obama said, according to several sources who heard the
president make the promise during a closed-door portion of his
meeting with House Democrats in Williamsburg on Thursday night.
Mr. Obama said the timing of the executive order would be
coordinated with Congress, and said it was important that Congress
also pass a law codifying his order so that a future president
couldn't simply reverse the policy.
Among his 11 executive orders so far, Mr. Obama has signed four
that aid unions, part of a union-friendly blitz in his early days.
Some observers said he's trying to do all he can for unions now
because Democrats are unlikely to be able to deliver on unions'
top priority, the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow
unions to form without a secret-ballot vote by workers. Business
groups say there are likely enough votes in the Senate to block
the measure by filibuster.
PLA supporters said the agreements hold down costs by creating
certainty, promoting quality and improving coordination - all
benefits Mr. Obama cited in his order.
"It is the policy of the federal government to encourage executive
agencies to consider requiring the use of project labor agreements
in connection with large-scale construction projects in order to
promote economy and efficiency in federal procurement," Mr. Obama
said in his order.
Opponents, though, said the agreements can increase costs by as
much as 20 percent because of higher union wages.
"Union-only PLAs drive up costs for American taxpayers while
unfairly discriminating against 84 percent of U.S. construction
workers who choose not to join a labor union," said Kirk Pickerel,
president of Associated Builders and Contractors. "All taxpayers
should have the opportunity to compete fairly on any project
funded by the federal government."