Construction fights back against pro-union executive order

By Paige HaeffeleFebruary 28, 2022

Ben Brubeck is vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs at ABC, a construction industry trade association that’s part of a coalition voicing opposition to Biden’s recent executive order

Construction stakheholders are voicing opposition to President Biden’s recent executive order prioritizing union contractors for federal infrastructure projects. 

Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and a coalition of 19 associations and organizations representing the construction industry and business community sent a letter to Congress expressing support for the Fair and Open Competition Act, sponsored by Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., and Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C, and strong opposition to government-mandated project labor agreements (PLAs).

According to the Congress website, the Act “prohibits federally supported construction projects from requiring or prohibiting project labor agreements. Such documents also may not discriminate against or give preference to a bidder or contractor who signs or refuses to sign a project labor agreement.”

“Co-sponsoring the Fair and Open Competition Act is critical in light of President Biden’s executive order, which requires PLAs (project labor agreements) on federal construction projects of $35 million or more,” the coalition wrote.

“PLA mandates exacerbate the construction industry’s skilled labor shortage of 650,000 workers in 2022 by unfairly discouraging competition from quality nonunion contractors and their employees, who comprise 87.4% of the private U.S. construction industry workforce.”

The Biden administration is also “promoting PLAs on federally assisted projects procured by state and local governments competing for federal dollars authorized and funded through bipartisan legislation - like the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act of 2021 and other bills - that do not require or encourage the use of PLAs on taxpayer-funded construction projects,” the coalition wrote.

The statement goes on to ask for support for the Act, which it claims will “create a level playing field in the procurement of government construction contracts, increase competition, help small businesses grow, decrease construction costs and spread the job-creating benefits of federal and federally funded contracts throughout the construction industry.”

The coalition states the PLA mandates will increase construction costs by 12% to 20% and effectively exclude the nearly nine out of 10 U.S. construction workers who choose not to join a union from building taxpayer-funded construction projects.

“These controversial agreements hold a third of employees’ compensation for ransom unless they join a union, pay union fees and prop up struggling union pension plans,” said Ben Brubeck, ABC vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs.

“PLAs also create excessive cost burdens and risks for high-performing nonunion contractors, which built more than half of the federal government’s large-scale construction projects from 2009 to 2021 and are more likely to be small, women- and/or minority-owned businesses.”

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