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Builders wait for federal PLA rules

Sean Ryan
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A delay in enacting the federal government’s support of project-labor agreements on contracts is frustrating some unions and giving nonunion builders a short respite.

President Barack Obama on Feb. 6 signed an order lifting the federal government’s ban of PLAs on federal projects worth more than $25 million. The order gave federal agencies until June 5 to change procurement rules to incorporate the new acceptance of PLAs.

But the U.S. Office of Management and Budget is still reviewing the revision.

When PLAs are used, contractors and employees sign an agreement before a project begins to set contract terms, block strikes and lockouts, and establish procedures for settling labor disputes.

The Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., a nonunion contractor group that argues PLAs limit competition, does not mind the delay in enacting PLAs, said Ben Brubeck, ABC labor and state affairs director, government affairs.

“You will start seeing each agency adopt their own regulations or take the executive order and put it in their bid documents,” he said. “So we’ll see some PLAs on a case-by-case basis.”

But A. Neal Hall, business manager of the Colorado Building and Construction Trades Council, said he is tired of waiting. Hall said he is trying to encourage the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to require a PLA on an estimated $700 million hospital planned for the Denver suburb of Aurora.

But, he said, Veterans Affairs will not make a decision until the regulations are modified to include PLAs.

“It’s very frustrating for us to wait as long as we had to wait for this to happen,” Hall said. “In Colorado, Denver is probably the slowest construction market right now.”

But the U.S. Building & Construction Trades Department is content to wait for the rules, said Tom Owens, director of communications. There are proposed bills in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives that would prohibit PLAs on federal contracts, but Owens said those are not going anywhere.

“We’re encouraged by everything that the administration said,” Owens said. “Clearly they have a lot of stuff on their plate, so we’re not being critical that things are not moving as quickly as we expected.”

The changes to federal acquisition rules are bad enough for nonunion builders, Brubeck said. Worse, he said, is another component of the PLA executive order giving the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Labor until August to decide if PLAs should be used more broadly than just on large projects the federal government oversees.

“That’s the real concern for ABC,” Brubeck said, “because, right now, it’s not a mandate.”

Obama’s order also tells federal agents to decide if PLAs should be encouraged on state or local projects that receive federal money. Brubeck said the PLA rules could apply to any federal contract covered by Davis-Bacon rules, which are prevailing wage requirements applied to government contracts worth more than $2,000 and that receive federal money.

“So there’s a lot of things on the table,” he said, “and that’s the scariest thing.”


  1. You do not have to travel very far to see the the affect of the tardiness of the Feds when it comes to the PLA language that the President has sent forward for the benefit of working Americans. Right here in our own backyard where a PLA provided our communities a under budget and ahead of schedule Marquette Interchange project now see’s a different direction of primary contractors that have been awarded sections of the on going I 94 project.

    Prevailing wage is about putting men and women of the Local communities to work and provide them an area standard wage to a better quality of life which also includes benefits such as a health benefit. A PLA is a working document that offers a means to utilize the combination of many factors for the benefit of our communities and the families of those same communities.

    Regarding prevailing wage, not everyone on the I 94 project is receiving the area standard as to a wages and benefits package. The delivery of materials to that project are not covered by prevailing wage because that work is not work peformed on the project. A loophole that primary contractors on projects that are receiving stimulus funding are utilizing to their fulliest.

    Wasn’t stimulus money directed by the White House to get Americans back to work and major intrastructure projects on track to provide a jump start to a ecomonic recovery?

    Our families and business” of the communities that use the I 94 system should be asking the question,” If a PLA worked on the Marquette Interchange, which came in ahead of schedule and under budget, why isn’t a PLA on the I 94 project?”

  2. What a concept!
    Laws enacted to assure that hard earned tax dollars are not used to take advantage of common, hard working tax-payers! Justice for working America is taking a big step forward.

  3. Executive Order 13502 is nothing more than a give-away to Big Labor. This move by President Obama reeks of cronyism as it will have the practical effect of funneling lucrative construction contracts to his political supporters — the Building Trades Unions. These unions have donated millions (if not billions) of dollars and man hours to Democrats and the Obama campaign — money taken “voluntarily” out of union dues in union members’ paychecks. This is payback and taxpayers are going to foot this bill.

    I have to agree with ABC here. The only thing PLAs are good at preventing is true competition from qualified and local non-union contractors and their skilled workforce. Costs are going to increase because of this lack of competition and because of inefficient and costly union work rules mandated in PLAs.

    From 2001-2008 the federal government has built almost $150 billion worth of federal construction with no government mandated PLAs under President Bush’s PLA neutral Executive Order. I challenge anyone to name one federal project that experienced a labor dispute or any other negative problem that was cited by President Obama as justification to issue this fragrant bouquet of corruption to construction unions.

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