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.