Citing Trump’s Experience as a Builder, U.S. Reps Ask Him To Back Project Labor Agreements

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Citing Republican President Donald Trump’s experience as a builder – and his knowledge of construction unions as well as the industry – six representa-tives, three from each party, asked Trump to back the use of Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) on federally funded construction.  

Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., an Electrical Worker and former president of the Southern New Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council, authored the letter to Trump. He asked Trump to “keep all contracting options in consideration,” including PLAs.  

The letter was particularly timely: It came just a week after a House committee heard testimony on federal funding for infrastructure. There, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka pushed infrastructure spending. PLAs did not come up in that hearing’s prepared statements.  

“Federal construction projects are massive undertakings and can often take years just to be authorized. Given the cost and complications of these projects, no construction management tool, such as PLAs, should be prohibited,” the solons wrote Trump on Feb. 8.

“Several of your company’s projects in New York and New Jersey have used PLAs, including the Trump National Club House in Briarcliff, N.Y., Trump Plaza in New Rochelle, N.Y., and the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City,” they noted.

“Many other companies in the private sector, including Disney, Toyota, and General Motors, utilize PLAs. The federal government should not be barred from using such a popular instrument of construction management,” their letter says.

The Obama administration encouraged – but did not mandate -- use of PLAs on all federally funded construction. Anti-union low-ball contractors, led by the Associated Builders and Contractors, hate PLAs, as well as prevailing wages for federally funded construction.

“Having worked as an IBEW electrician, I saw firsthand how project labor agreements benefit workers and contractors,” Norcross explained. “The best developers use PLAs to save money and increase efficiency. The federal government should have access to the same tools. PLAs will save taxpayer funds and help American workers by creating greater opportunities, increasing job security and raising wages.”

Whether Trump agrees may set up a conflict with his own party in Congress, as right wing House Republicans have repeatedly tried to ban PLAs. Their latest attempt, last May, lost 209-216, as 33 Republicans, plus all the Democrats, listened to construction workers and bucked the anti-PLA line. That was “a high water mark” for Republican PLA support, said Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades.

Trumka told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Feb. 1 that “we need to be the America that can, not the America that can’t.” He said Congress should consider all possible funding sources for what Trump seeks: $1 trillion in infrastructure improvements, spread over a period of years. Business witnesses also backed infrastructure. 

“Our failing infrastructure may be an obstacle and a challenge, but fixing it is a powerful opportunity,” Trumka said. He called $1 trillion “the right scale” and pledged unions would campaign for that, since unionists can provide “the most highly skilled and well-trained workforce to get the job done.” Trumka added: “We want investments that create good jobs and meet the real needs of our economy.”     

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Freight can’t wait

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

A freight train hauling lumber and nylon manufacturing chemicals derailed, caught fire and caused a 108-year-old bridge to collapse in Tempe, Ariz., this week, in the second accident on the same bridge within a month.

The bridge was damaged after the first incident, according to Union Pacific railroad that owns the rail bridge, and re-opened two days later. 

The official cause of the derailments is still under investigation, but it remains clear that the failure to modernize and maintain America’s railroad infrastructure is dangerous. 

In 2019, 499 trains that derailed were found to have defective or broken track, roadbed or structures, according to the Federal Railroad Administration’s database of safety analysis.

While railroad workers’ unions have called for increased safety improvements, rail companies have also used technology and automation as an excuse to downsize their work forces.

For example, rail companies have implemented a cost-saving measure known as Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), which has resulted in mass layoffs and shoddy safety protocols. 

Though privately-owned railroads have spent significantly to upgrade large, Class I trains, regional Class II trains and local, short-line Class III trains that carry important goods for farmers and businesses still rely on state and local funds for improvements. 

But cash-strapped states struggle to adequately inspect new technologies and fund safety improvements, and repairing or replacing the aging track and rail bridges will require significant public investment.

A true infrastructure commitment will not only strengthen the country’s railroad networks and increase U.S. global economic competitiveness. It will also create millions of family-sustaining jobs needed to inspect, repair and manufacture new parts for mass transit systems, all while helping to prevent future disasters.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work