Harris backs bill to end union agreements on federal projects

January 30, 2013|By John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- In a move sure to stoke the partisan debate over organized labor, Rep. Andy Harris will introduce legislation Wednesday to end the favored treatment union contractors receive on construction projects paid for by the federal government.

The proposal, which in the past has been strongly supported by construction trade groups but opposed by labor, is a response to an executive order President Obama signed early in his first term requiring agencies to consider using project-labor agreements to set wages and site rules on federal construction projects.

Harris, a Cockeysville Republican, called the measure "pro-growth, pro-taxpayer, and pro-worker choice legislation that will lower government costs by increasing the competitiveness of federal contracts."

The bill is being introduced in the Senate by Louisiana Republican David Vitter and is identical to legislation he has sponsored in the past. The measure has zero chance of advancing in the Democratic-controlled Senate, but is likely to fire up core conservatives and liberals -- as well as contractors -- who have debated the issue for years at the state and federal levels.

Trade groups argue the labor agreements typically set rules that favor hiring union workers, which they say drives up the costs of projects and dissuades non-union contractors from applying for federal work. Labor groups counter that the agreements level the playing field for union contractors by ensuring workers receive fair wages and benefits.

Obama's executive order, which he signed in 2009, was the latest in a series of orders presidents have signed regarding the labor agreements. President Clinton signed a similar order in 1997, which was then revoked in 2001 by President Bush in an order that prohibited the agreements on federal projects.

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