By Kate Alexander
WASHINGTON – President Bush is expected to sign an executive order this weekend that may nullify the controversial labor agreement negotiated for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge reconstruction, according to wire service reports.
The Associated Press, quoting an unnamed White House official, said Bush could sign the executive order on project labor agreements as early as Saturday.
White House officials would not comment Friday on details of the order. Even if it bans project labor agreements, its impact on the Wilson Bridge is uncertain, since the agreement for that project was submitted in early January.
The Wilson Bridge PLA is still subject to approval by the Federal Highway Administration, however.
But, a statement issued by labor unions suggested that the agreement is all but dead.
“We are disappointed and angry that President Bush has issued an executive order banning project labor agreements on all federally funded projects without even meeting with the presidents of our unions,” said Edward C. Sullivan, president of the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO.
“We believe, as he says he does, that decisions like this are best left to the discretion of elected leaders at the state and local levels and that a blanket ban on PLAs will unfairly hamper decision-makers who are closer to the demands of a given project,” Sullivan said in a prepared statement.
The unions plan to challenge the order in court, according to the press statement.
Maryland and Virginia transportation officials declined to comment until the order was officially issued. Federal highway officials did not return phone calls.
Project labor agreements, or PLAs, provide a standard framework of work rules, working conditions, hiring practices and dispute resolution for the many trades involved in large construction projects. In return, the unions agree not to strike and to provide a steady stream of labor for the project.
Unions argue that project labor agreements ensure that projects are completed with quality workers, on time and on budget. Open-shop contractors counter that the agreements stifle competition, raise costs and provide an unfair advantage to union contractors, which represent only 20 percent of American construction workers.
The reconstruction of the Wilson Bridge, a bottleneck for Interstate 95 traffic between Maryland and Virginia, aims to replace the aging Potomac River crossing with a 12-lane, two-span structure. Both Maryland and Virginia are pitching in $200 million for the $2.2 billion project, with the federal government picking up the bulk of the cost.
Because Maryland owns the river, it is in charge of the construction project. Gov. Parris Glendening announced the state’s labor agreement for the Wilson Bridge in early January and submitted it for federal approval during the last days of the Clinton administration.
Bush is expected to reinstate an executive order signed by his father in 1992 that was revoked in the first weeks of the Clinton administration.
The AP also reported that the White House is expected to issue three other orders opposed by labor unions.