The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, June 08, 2012


By The Building Tradesman

Construction labor wins two close ones

WASHINGTON (PAI) – It was close, but construction unions posted two big wins late at night on May 31 in the GOP-run House.

First, by a 218-198 vote just after 9 p.m., the House reversed its month-old position and approved use of project labor agreements on federally funded construction.  Right afterwards, lawmakers defeated, 237-180, a last-minute scheme to prevent using the Davis-Bacon Act to set prevailing wages in military construction, too. 

Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., a first-term Republican in an unexpected close race to hold his Staten Island-Brooklyn U.S. House seat, led the charge to restore PLAs, via an amendment to the money bill for military construction projects.  A Right Wing freshman, Trent Franks, R-Ariz., tried to kill Davis-Bacon.

Grimm’s move killed an anti-PLA section in the military money bill and negated a PLA ban the House approved less than a month ago, 211-209, in another defense bill. 

“This is a big deal for our construction unions,” said Laborers legislative representative David Mallino before the hour-long debate, which began at 6 p.m.  “It was not a comfortable buffer” of votes for PLAs, he added before the 9 p.m. roll call.  “It depended on who was there and who wasn’t” in the House chamber in the evening.

And the close vote, plus the fact that the PLA ban is the No. 1 priority of the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors, assures the issue will rise again, he warns.        

Construction unions staged a major lobbying effort to restore PLAs on federally funded projects, after the first vote.  IBEW Local 3 in New York distributed a typical set of talking points for unionists to use with their lawmakers.

“A PLA is a business model that increases efficiency and quality of construction projects for the private sector as well as local, state, and federal governments,” the local said.  “It is a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement that establishes the terms and conditions of employment for all workers and their respective crafts,” it added. 

Among the “pro-business” points of PLAs that IBEW 3 wanted members to make are PLA bans on strikes or work stoppages, establishment of “a single procedure for handling all workforce disputes regardless of the craft” and being “an effective tool for ensuring that large and complex projects are completed on time” by highly skilled and properly trained local workers, at set wages.  That makes budgeting easier.

– Mark Gruenberg, PAI staff writer