Two GOP state lawmakers called on the White House this week to undo Obama rules allowing governments to mandate union labor agreements on federally backed projects.
State Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, and Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, sent a letter on Thursday to the White House’s director of Intergovernmental Affairs, asking the Trump Administration to once again prohibit governments from requiring Project Labor Agreements, or PLAs, on certain jobs that receive federal support.
It’s a policy that Republican and Democratic presidents have batted back and forth since President George H.W. Bush was in office. President Bill Clinton issued an executive order supporting PLAs, only to see that rule overturned by President George W. Bush. As expected, President Barack Obama later repealed the same rules.
Now, though, the pattern has been brought to a temporary halt with President Donald Trump’s lack of action on reinstating the ban.
Proponents of PLAs argue they ensure projects are done by well-paid workers who are capable of completing the job competently. Opponents respond by contending the agreements tend to direct contracts to unionized companies at the expense of merit contractors and open competition.
“Currently, many qualified contractors and their skilled employees in Wisconsin are strongly discouraged from competing for contracts to build federal and federally assisted construction projects when they are subject to government-mandated PLAs,” according to Kapenga and Hutton’s letter.
Hutton did not return messages seeking comment by press time on Friday. An official at the Associated Builders and Contractors, a national trade group representing mostly non-union companies, also did not return a message.
In January 2017, 12 trade groups — including the ABC, the Associated General Contractors of America and the National Association of Homebuilders — sent a similar letter to Trump urging him to once again bar PLAs on federal projects.
The current federal PLA policy, which hasn’t changed since Obama enacted it in February 2009, allows governments to enter into PLAs either on federal projects or projects that receive federal money as long as the total value of the work is $25 million or more.
In recent years, many states have passed laws prohibiting state and local governments from attaching certain types of PLAs to public projects. Wisconsin and 24 other states now have such bans.
In arguing for a similar prohibition at the federal level, Kapenga said PLAs often discourage competition and drive up project costs.
“I am hopeful that Washington will take a page out of Wisconsin’s playbook by ending the practice of requiring project labor agreements on federally funded projects,” he said.
Andrew Disch, political director for the Northcentral States Regional Council of Carpenters, said he doesn’t understand why government officials who want to make use of PLAs should be prohibited from doing so. Current rules, he said, don’t require public officials to enter into these sorts of agreements but only stipulate that they can.
“I think local communities should have more options not less,” Disch said. “We should trust local elected officials that are closest to the community to make these decisions not a special interest group or lawmakers in Madison.”