President Biden Signs Order Aiming to Bolster Union Construction Jobs

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Large construction site

​President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Feb. 4 requiring the use of collective bargaining agreements called Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) on federal construction projects that cost more than $35 million.

The order aims to improve quality and lower costs on federal construction projects, according to the White House.

We've gathered articles on the news from SHRM Online and other media outlets.

Training Program

The executive order also directs the Department of Labor and White House Office of Management and Budget to develop a training program on the new policy for about 40,000 contract workers. "The executive order I'm going to sign today is going to 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 would have been otherwise," Biden said. 

Biden had promised that the bipartisan infrastructure law he signed in November 2021 would create union jobs. The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act released funds to improve the nation's roads, bridges, broadband access and utilities. Key changes in the act for employers include an end to the Employee Retention Tax Credit and the creation of workplace development grant programs and industry-specific advisory boards.

(The Hill) and (SHRM Online)

Order Aims to Alleviate Management Challenges

According to a White House fact sheet, the Feb. 4 executive order will apply only to provisions in the bipartisan infrastructure law regarding direct federal procurement, which does not include construction projects that are financed through grant dollars to nonfederal entities. The administration said the order will:

  • Alleviate coordination challenges on large, complex projects. 
  • Raise quality standards for contractors bidding on federal projects. 
  • Reduce uncertainty in the contracting process. 
  • Increase training for the federal contracting workforce. 

"The order will help alleviate the management and coordination challenges that can stymie progress on major construction projects," according to the White House. "This helps projects get completed on time and helps the government get the best value for taxpayers' dollars."

(The White House)

Union Leader Applauds Order

David Long, chief executive officer of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), applauded the order. 

"This order prioritizes safety, value, quality and on-time delivery of our federal projects, built with a highly skilled and trained workforce—all areas in which NECA contractors exceed their competitors," he said. "With the signing of the bipartisan infrastructure law, nothing is more important than directly impacting and repairing our nation's infrastructure for the safety and well-being of our citizens and our communities."

(NECA)

Business Groups Say Order Will Exclude Many Workers

Several business groups raised concerns about the costs and other constraints associated with the plan.

"Government-mandated project labor agreements undermine the collective bargaining process by imposing a separate agreement in a specific region that applies only to a limited number of construction firms and unions," according to a statement from the Associated General Contractors of America.

Ben Brubeck, vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs for Associated Builders and Contractors, said, "PLA mandates are bad public policy because they effectively exclude the nearly 9 out of 10 U.S. construction workers who choose not to join a union from building taxpayer-funded construction projects." He added, "PLAs also create excessive cost burdens and risks for high-performing nonunion contractors."

(FOX Business) and (Associated Builders and Contractors)

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