U.S. Labor Secretary Dodges Thompson's Questions on Project Labor Agreements

Feb 3, 2010

Washington, D.C.—At a hearing today in the House Education and Labor Committee, U.S. Representative Glenn `GT’ Thompson, R-Howard, questioned U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis,  on President Obama’s Executive Order encouraging Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) for federal contracts and asked why the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has imposed them when going to bid.

“Unfortunately, Secretary Solis chose not to directly answer my question regarding a construction project in New Hampshire that DOL identified as high priority, but then mysteriously canceled the job when they found firms were not bidding because it was subject to a PLA. Rather, the Secretary responded that job creation was not the goal.  She said, `First and foremost we must keep costs down,’” Thompson explained.

Project Labor Agreements, when they are made part of the bidding process, require that companies that bid on a contract with the federal government must have union workers, pay union scale and include union collective bargaining agreements. The Obama Administration contends PLAs control cost factors, and the President put forth an Executive Order encouraging PLAs, however in areas like New Hampshire this removes about 90% of the eligible firms from bidding.

Thompson reminded the Committee that a project for the Rockview State Correctional Institution in Benner Township in his district, had a PLA imposed by the Pennsylvania Department of General Services.  “It kept a number of firms in the region from bidding on the project and those that did bid were so high that General Services was forced to remove the PLA. This job is now on hold too.”
Thompson described the New Hampshire ordeal in further detail, “Last September, DOL issued a solicitation for construction of a Job Corps Center in New Hampshire that the Department declared was `urgently needed.’  Without explanation, the Department attempted to impose a Project Labor Agreement. After a local small business filed a protest against the PLA, the Department cancelled the solicitation, and has not re-issued it.

Thompson asked Solis, “Why did the Department cancel the entire solicitation of an `urgently needed’ project in the face of the bid protest instead of simply removing the PLA?”
Solis answered that in many instances PLAs have actually helped to reduce costs and that it is appropriate that the Department look for ways to keep costs down.  She did not answer the question about New Hampshire.

Committee Chairman George Miller, D-CA, asked that Solis answer Thompson’s question in writing at a later date.

“This is not an ‘us vs. them’ scenario, this is about American jobs. Contract decisions for the federal government should not be based on politics,” said Thompson.  “True competition will provide the lowest cost, union or not. In this economic crisis, we need to maximize the job creation in this country. And while I commend the Secretary for acknowledging the need to mitigate costs, the Secretary of Labor should be making sure jobs are maximized, rather than catering to unions.”