The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, February 03, 2017

Trade unions leaders get face time with Trump

By The Building Tradesman

WASHINGTON - "From this moment on," President Donald Trump said in his inaugural address, "it's going to be America First.  Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families."

It was one of only two references to "workers"  in his speech, and left unsaid was the president's views on labor unions, prevailing wages, workplace safety, project labor agreements, and right-to-work. But it's early, and Trump's views will be revealed over the next four years, no doubt, through his words, tweets and policies and laws he signs.

Until then, Trump spent the first week of his term in office getting input from the U.S. construction industry, union and nonunion, as well as their contractors. The contractors wrote a letter. But building trades union leaders spent a portion of the afternoon of Jan. 24 face-to-face with Trump in a "listening session," saying it was the first time in memory that they had been invited as a group to the Oval Office, including the past eight of the Obama Administration.

“It was an honor that, on his first full day in office, President Donald J. Trump called upon leaders and rank and file members of North America’s Building Trades Unions to solicit our views with regard to his promises to create jobs, re-build America’s infrastructure, further develop and harness America’s abundant energy resources, raise the wages of working-class Americans, and move people off of public assistance and into the American middle class," said a joint statement by the labor leaders.

They said they "expressed to President Trump that we have the organization and programs, including and especially our apprenticeship-readiness programs and our nationwide formal apprenticeship education and training infrastructure, to help accomplish not only these goals, but to also help thwart efforts to undermine middle class job opportunities and cut the wages and benefits of American construction workers via repeal of prevailing wage statutes."

In on the meeting were Building Trades President Sean McGarvey, and international union presidents Terry O’Sullivan of the Laborers, Douglas McCarron of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, Mark McManus of the United Association of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders & Service Techs, Joseph Sellers of SMART - the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, and several rank and file building and construction trades craft professionals.

"We thank President Trump for the respect that he demonstrated not only to us, but to the three million construction professionals that we represent, by inviting us to the White House for such a frank and thorough discussion.  We look forward to continuing this important dialogue with him and his Administration on the many issues that are critical to the economic well-being of working class Americans.  Today was a great day for America and for American workers," the statement said.

In reporting on the meeting, the New York Times said the federal Davis-Bacon Act, which assures the payment of locally prevailing wages on federally funded construction projects, was "one point of possible discord" raised by McGarvey.

Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) has sponsored a bill that would rescind prevailing wage on federal highway projects.

"Mr. McGarvey said he had told Mr. Trump that Mr. Flake’s bill would undercut wages and undermine the president’s campaign goal of producing good middle-class jobs. The president was noncommittal in response, he said. 'He said he knows the Davis-Bacon proposal well, understands how it works,' Mr. McGarvey said, but avoided taking a position,'" the Times said.

Meanwhile, a Jan. 10 letter from the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), Associated General Contractors (AGC) and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among other groups, urged Trump to overturn Obama's Executive Order 13502, which encourages federal agencies, on a case-by-case basis, to require project labor agreements (PLAs) on federal construction projects exceeding $25 million in total value.

The Obama PLA rule, which was not binding, allows the government to set conditions of employee pay, hiring conditions and other contractual stipulations for construction contracts. The ABC and AGC and Chamber want to go in the opposite direction, and replace it with an executive order that would prevent federal agencies and recipients of federal assistance from requiring contractors to sign "an anti-competitive and costly PLA as a condition of winning a federal or federally assisted construction contract."

Numerous government agencies and private companies have found project labor agreements useful business tools that add certainty to construction contracting.

The Trump Administration hasn't tipped their hand on their view of PLAs, either.