John Wojcik | People’s Weekly World | August 24, 2009
The days when an unscrupulous contractor could haul off tons of federal dollars without meeting his obligation to pay a living wage to his workers on a federally funded project are about to end.
August 13 was the last day for public comments on the Obama administration’s plan to cover not only workers on projects that are entirely funded by the government but also workers on any project that receives more than $25 million in such funds.
The Project Labor Agreements, as they are called, were eliminated by President Bush in Jan., 2001. Hundreds of contractors, following that move, paid workers as little as they pleased and then frequently cheated the government on the terms of the service they were supposed to provide.
In New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina, the Bush policy allowed many contractors to hire undocumented workers who were deported when work was done, before having received any pay whatsoever.
President Obama signed an executive order in January requiring project labor agreements that stipulate payment of prevailing union wage rates for the required work on any project that is entirely funded with federal dollars. The newest proposal by the administration extends those protections even to projects that are only partially funded by the government.
The General Services Administration, the Defense Department and NASA have calculated that the new Obama orders will improve conditions dramatically at a minimum of 300 major projects each year.
Project labor agreements are contracts between contractors, usually general contractors, and unions that set working conditions for particular projects, including highways, bridges and tunnels. The administration’s recently formulated policy will require even sub-contractors to sign project labor agreements.
In return for paying wages negotiated with the unions, the agreements allow work rules that ensure smooth running of projects and mechanisms to easily resolve disputes.
Anti-union contractors and their Republican backers despise the agreements because they prevent payment of substandard wages and they prevent imposition of less expensive but unsafe working conditions.
The administration said in its brief last month that “without project labor agreements there is a lack of coordination among various employers and uncertainties about the terms and conditions of employment of various groups of workers that can create friction and disputes in the absence of an agreed-upon resolution and mechanism.
“Use of project labor agreements may prevent these problems from developing by providing structure and stability to large scale construction projects, thereby promoting the efficient and expeditious completion of federal construction contracts.”
One federal contractor hired under the lax Bush rules to repair dams in New Orleans was found to have used newspaper to stuff holes and then covering them with cement.
The administration has ordered the Office of Management and Budget to work with the Secretary of Labor to come up with recommendations that would extend the concept of project labor agreements to a wider variety of federally funded projects beyond just the area of construction.
A recent notice in the Federal Register reads, “Project labor agreements are a tool agencies may use to promote efficiency and economy in federal procurement.”