Back in February 2009, one of the first actions President Barack Obama took after settling in at the White House was to issue Executive Order 13502, which promotes union-only “project labor agreements” (PLAs) on federally funded public works. In April 2010, the Obama Administration issued a “final rule” implementing the order.
Since then, E.O. 13502 has pressured federal agencies to acquiesce to PLAs on all large public works. In practice, it is designed to force nonunion companies wishing to participate in public works using $25 million or more in federal funds to impose union monopoly bargaining on their employees and hire new workers through discriminatory union hiring halls.
Under union-only PLAs, independent workers who already have their own retirement funds are nevertheless forced to contribute to Big Labor-manipulated pension funds. Rather than compromise the freedom of their employees and the efficiency of their operations, most independent construction firms simply refuse to submit bids on PLA projects.
Efforts to roll back E.O.13502 legislatively began almost as soon as this edict was issued. The obstructionism of Big Labor Democrat politicians in Congress has made it an uphill battle. However, after voters in state after state shellacked Big Labor politicians in the 2014 elections, putting both chambers under GOP control for the first time since 2006, PLA opponents had reason to hope they were gaining momentum.
Unfortunately, a floor vote occurring last week in the U.S. House on an amendment prohibiting the use of taxpayer funds to enforce E.O.13502 seemed to show that grass-roots opposition to PLAs has made little headway on Capitol Hill since 2010.
On May 19, as the House considered H.R.4974, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, pro-Right to Work Congressman Scott Perry (R-Pa.) introduced an amendment that would have prohibited imposition of union-only PLAs on military, VA, and other construction funded through this measure.
The Perry amendment failed only because a claque of 33 union boss-appeasing GOP representatives joined with 183 Big Labor Democrats to kill it. (See the link below to review the roll-call vote.)
Although fewer than 14% of the 242 Republicans present and voting sided with union lobbyists, that was enough for union lobbyists to secure a narrow victory. If just four of the House members voting against the Perry amendment had switched sides, that would have sufficed for the ban on wasteful and discriminatory PLAs to be adopted by the chamber.
And according to a post-vote analysis by Liam Donovan, a spokesman for the Associated Builders and Contractors, nine of the Republicans who helped squash the Perry Amendment represent districts where there party enjoys at least a 10-point advantage in voter self-identification. Since union-only PLAs are unpopular with Americans in general and, undoubtedly, even more unpopular with their constituencies, it should have been especially easy for them to stand up to the union bosses.
In addition to the Republicans and Democrats who voted against the Perry amendment, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) must bear some of the responsibility for its defeat.
As a self-styled foe of PLAs and profligate government spending in general, Ryan should be doing everything possible to get legislation defunding PLAs approved by his chamber.
As demonstrated by the 23 state laws prohibiting taxpayer-funded PLAs now on the books, most of them adopted just within the past few years, public opposition to union-only PLAs is intense. Ultimately, President Obama and his allies in Congress may decide they don’t want to spend any more of their political capital defending these special-interest schemes.
But Obama and company will feel relatively little pressure to end their love affair with PLAs as long as the GOP-controlled Congress remains incapable of passing anti-PLA legislation!
That’s why Ryan needs to advise all members of his House caucus that there will be significant intra-party repercussions for them if they continue providing cover for Barack Obama and other union-label Democrats on the PLA issue.