Vote-A-Rama, the U.S. Senate’s annual version of March Madness, gives senators a chance to offer unlimited amendments and votes to the Senate’s budget resolution. Traditionally, senators seek proxy votes on a variety of legislative priorities, and try to put their counterparts across the aisle into some difficult political positions.
Today, for the first time ever, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution containing language banning government-mandated project labor agreements (PLAs).
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) offered amendment 665 to the Senate Budget (pdf) (S.Con.Res. 11) establishing a spending-neutral reserve fund relating to prohibiting the awarding of construction contracts based on awardees entering or not entering into agreements with labor organizations.
In short, Sen. Flake’s amendment would prohibit the government from mandating a project labor agreement (PLA) on federal or federally funded construction projects authorized by this bill. This good-government proposal would help to increase competition and curb waste and favoritism in the procurement of construction contracts.
The Flake amendment passed 51-49 (Senate Vote #120), with GOP Sens. Daines (MT), Kirk (IL) and Murkowski (AK) voting with all Democrats.
However, the votes are all nonbinding, as is the budget resolution itself. It is not a law and doesn’t go to the president’s desk. It reflects the will of the Senate and is the first time the Senate has ever approved language supporting a restriction prohibiting government-mandated PLAs.
UPDATE 5/5/15: The U.S. Senate passed 51-48 the conference report for the Concurrent Resolution on the Budget (S. Con Res 11) for Fiscal Year 2016 May 5. It contains ABC-supported language adopted during Senate Vote-A-Rama that would restrict the use of government-mandated project labor agreements (PLAs). The House passed the budget conference report, which also included this anti-PLA language, 226-197 on April 30.
The House passage of the budget marks the second time the House has ever passed a bill containing pro-neutrality language. The first time the House passed a bill with anti-PLA mandate language was in 2012 on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2013 (H.R. 4310) via an amendment offered by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) and Rep. Flake.
ABC will continue to educate lawmakers about the negative impact of government-mandated PLAs on federal and federally assisted projects and the benefits of legislative solutions that will help taxpayers get the best possible construction product at the best possible price.
PLAs act as special interest kickbacks that typically require companies that have been awarded government contracts to recognize unions as the representatives of their employees on that job, use the union hiring hall to obtain workers and follow notoriously inefficient union work rules. Most importantly, PLAs discourage employers of 86.1 percent of the private construction workforce that chooses not to join a union from bidding on a project. This amendment will lead to increased competition, less litigation and more accountability on taxpayer-funded construction projects.
On Feb. 6, 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order 13502, which strongly encourages federal agencies to require PLAs on a case-by-case basis on federal construction projects exceeding $25 million in total cost. In response, 19 states have enacted legislation or executive orders restricting PLA requirements and preferences on state and local projects since 2011. To date, a total of 22 states have measures that guarantee fair and open competition on taxpayer-funded construction projects.
Sen. Flake’s amendment does nothing to prevent a contractor from voluntarily entering into a PLA—it solely prevents the government from mandating the use of a PLA as a condition of winning the contract.
The Flake amendment has the same intent as the Government Neutrality in Contracting Act (S. 71), introduced by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) in the 114th Congress.
This is the first time the Senate has voted on the issue of government-mandated PLAs since Senator Vitter offered an amendment in Jan. 2009, which was rejected along party lines.
ABC and the following diverse coalition of construction industry and employer groups support Sen. Flake’s pro-taxpayer amendment:
Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) *scoring
Associated General Contractors (AGC) *scoring
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)
Independent Electrical Contractors Association (IEC)
National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC)
Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council (SBEC) *including as a Key Vote
National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC)
National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB)
American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC)
National Taxpayers Union (NTU)