Labor pact is favored in ruling

Decision overturns Bush order affecting Wilson Bridge work

November 08, 2001|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

A federal court gave fresh momentum yesterday to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's fight for a "project labor agreement" requiring contractors to follow union work rules as they build the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

The ruling, issued by U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the District of Columbia, overturned an executive order signed by President Bush this year prohibiting such agreements for federally funded projects across the country.

Replacing the bridge, which carries Interstates 95 and 495 across the Potomac River between Oxon Hill and Alexandria, Va., is one of the largest construction projects in Maryland history and the state's No. 1 transportation priority.

The impact of the decision was being studied last night, but state Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said he believes it will permit construction to move forward -- though six weeks behind schedule.

"From our perspective, there should be nothing in the way of this project moving ahead right now," Porcari said.

The federal government is putting $1.5 billion toward the $2.4 billion project, with Maryland and Virginia sharing the remaining cost. The heart of the project is two new six-lane spans over the Potomac, one to be completed in 2004 and the other in 2006.

Sullivan's ruling responds to a lawsuit filed by the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department.

The suit challenged Bush's order, signed shortly after he took office, and brought construction to a halt. In August, the judge issued a preliminary injunction that temporarily overturned the executive order.

Lawyers for the AFL-CIO argued, in part, that the National Labor Relations Act pre-empts the executive order.

The Associated Builders and Contractors urged the Justice Department yesterday to immediately appeal the ruling.

Members of the group predicted the decision would erode open competition in federal contracting and cost construction workers thousands of jobs.

"We definitely anticipate an appeal, and we also believe the executive order will be upheld," said Scott Brown, spokesman for the contractors group.

Calling the ruling an "erroneous reading" of the executive order and the labor relations act, Brown said it was unclear whether it meant construction could immediately move ahead.

"We could have already moved forward with the project if not for the pursuit of this PLA," said Brown.

Attorneys with the Justice Department could not be reached last night.

But Edward C. Sullivan, president of the Building and Construction Trades Department, said construction should have resumed after the judge's ruling in August. Instead, he said, foot-dragging by the Federal Highway Administration has held up paperwork needed to go forward.

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