Obama reverses Bush-era order on labor agreements

Alex Brandon/AP

The Obama administration has overturned a 2001 executive order requiring federal agencies to remain neutral in their approach to relationships between contractors on major construction projects and the workers they employ.

The administration's decision to overturn Executive Order 13202, was only the latest salvo in a battle that has shifted back and forth between Democratic and Republican administrations since 1992 over the use of union labor in federal construction projects.

In that year, President George H.W. Bush signed Executive Order 12818, which forbade agencies from requiring construction contractors to use project labor agreements, which governed the relationships with their workers for a contract's duration. President Clinton in 1993 issued Executive Order 12818 overturning Bush's order, and released a memo in 1997 recommending that agencies require contractors to use project labor agreements on construction contracts worth more than $5 million. In 2001, President George W. Bush reversed Clinton's order, and added a clause stipulating that agencies could not discourage the use of labor agreements either, but had to stay neutral toward such agreements altogether.

President Obama issued his own executive order in February, saying it was the government's policy to encourage the use of labor agreements to avoid misunderstandings about the cost of labor, and to ensure that one contractor's workforce problems during a project not delay other teams involved in the contract. The revocation of Bush's 2001 executive order now clears the way for enforcing Obama's order.

"The use of a project labor agreement 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," Obama wrote in February when he issued the order.

Matt Biggs, legislative director of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, said his union, which represents both federal employees and contractors, viewed the reversal of the 2001 Bush order as a step forward.

"This administration's action in reversing Executive Order 13202 will further encourage project labor agreements, and is reflective of their commitment to working people," Biggs said.

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