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Fight forms around federal PLAs

Sean Ryan
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Federal project-labor agreement rules released Tuesday established the battle line between national groups that applaud the law and those that argue it cripples fair competition.

The U.S. Building & Construction Trades Department on Tuesday hailed the rules as a big step toward creating more training opportunities and funneling workers into union programs.

Yet the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. came out against the rules, arguing they are illegal and violate open competition laws. The association vowed to challenge the new PLA rules on every front.

The Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council on Tuesday published its long-awaited draft rules that dictate how federal agencies will determine PLA requirements on contracts. The PLAs are allowed on federal contracts worth more than $25 million, according to President Barack Obama’s February executive order that reversed a government prohibition of the agreements. The federal government will collect public comments on the draft rules until Aug. 13.

The rules released Tuesday require contractors bargain with organized-labor organizations before starting construction. The agreements prohibit strikes and lockouts, dictate procedures to resolve labor disputes and create other forms of labor-management cooperation.

Unions will use the PLAs to get workers into apprenticeships on the federal projects, said Tom Owens, director of communications for the U.S. Building & Construction Trades Department. He said the PLAs will not require workers join a particular apprenticeship program, however he said he expects most trainees will join union programs.

“What we want to do is get people into these systems,” Owens said. “That is what PLAs are designed to do.”

Beyond preventing worker shortages, PLAs on federal contracts will improve market shares for unions if they get more apprentices to sign up, Owens said.

As of June 6, 1,251 of Wisconsin’s 5,955 apprentices were registered with the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin Inc.

The ABC argues the federal PLA rules are too broad. According to the draft rules, agencies should require a PLA when it increases project efficiency, maintains stability between workers and companies, and improves compliance with federal laws.

“There isn’t any criteria, meaningful criteria,” said John Mielke, vice president of ABC of Wisconsin.

Mielke said the standards for awarding contracts — on time, on budget and safe —should remain the same as they always have been and should not be influenced by PLA requirements.

“We just don’t think belonging to the right club or not belonging to the right club meets the criteria,” he said.


  1. I appreciate the comments of Tom Owens, director of communications for the U.S. Building & Construction Trades Department. But I doubt, given this uncertain economic environment, federal projects worth more than $25 million will face labor shortages, strikes or lockouts, or protracted labor disputes.

    Construction industry professionals – in both union and merit shop environments – are hard-working, independent men and women dedicated to doing a sound job for their clients … skilled, innovative persons, willing to embrace new technologies and new construction methods … capable and dedicated workers, empowered to anticipate client needs and exceed client expectations … knowledge-thirsty individuals, committed to updating and expanding their skills through ongoing education and training … goal-oriented, task-driven professionals, proud of their accomplishments … and mentors and advocates, investing time and expertise to improve their industry and the communities they serve.

    The very best – again, in both union and merit shop environments – are visionary leaders, enriching everyone they come in contact with by pursuing solid partnerships. These solutions-oriented professionals are enthusiastic, committed to excellence and integrity, and bring spirit, energy, passion, and vitality to every project they undertake.

    Improving market share for union construction workers is a good goal, but should not come at the expense of merit shop construction workers. Erasing battle lines and working in partnership to improve market share for all Wisconsin construction professionals would better leverage the leadership and energies of the President, federal and state politicians and regulators, and labor and management principals, and best serve construction workers and the general public.

  2. Obama’s Executive Order 13502 is a sop to labor unions and will either discourage or exclude non-union contractors from participating in federal construction projects over $25 million. This is pure discrimination. Academic studies have found that PLAs raise the cost of construction between 14 percent and 20 percent. Now is the worst possible time to inflate the cost of federal construction projects – the federal government should instead be making every effort to stretch federal investment in our community’s infrastructure and new jobs for all sectors of the construction industry – not only those who belong to a union.

    To learn more about discriminatory and costly PLAs and President Obama’s pro-PLA Executive Order 13502 and related regulations, please visit

  3. It seems like damn near everyone has something to say about using union or non-union labor…except that is…the owner of the companies. Very sad.

  4. We are never going to be one. BUT LETS DO WHATS RIGHT

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