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Working & the Economy

In Maryland, Biden Signs Order Affecting 200,000 Workers in Federal Building Contracts

President Biden speaks to a small crowd of steelworkers with a large American flag in the background
President Joe Biden (D) speaks Friday to Ironworkers Local 5 in Upper Marlboro before signing an executive order that will affect about 200,000 workers under federally contracted construction projects. Photo by Tatyana Monnay/Capital News Service.

By Tatyana Monnay and Ryan White

Construction workers and unions will enjoy new protections on major federally contracted construction projects after President Biden signed an executive order in Upper Marlboro on Friday.

The order would affect an estimated 200,000 workers by requiring federal construction contracts worth over $35 million to use project labor agreements, according to the White House.

“It will help guarantee a consistent supply of high-quality, highly-trained workers,” the president told union workers at Ironworkers Local 5.

Project labor agreements establish the terms and conditions of the employment of workers on a per-project basis. The contractor awarded the federal contract must sign the pre-negotiated PLA with the corresponding union organization.

Then-President Barack Obama signed an executive order encouraging executive agencies to consider requiring the use of PLAs for federal construction projects worth over $25 million in 2009.

This new executive order makes PLA use mandatory.

The Biden-Harris administration says the order will make it easier for workers to settle on these agreements and will also expedite building times on major construction projects.

“History shows us that projects under PLAs come in on time, often under budget, and put people to work in good paying jobs with benefits so that everyone wins,” U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told Capital News Service in an interview. He attended the Biden signing ceremony, along with Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) and Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D).

“Workers built this country and will help rebuild it. It’s time we lift them up,” Brown tweeted after the presidential visit.

Van Hollen, along with the rest of the Maryland delegation, pushed for more resources to be delivered to Maryland in the massive Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that last year was passed by Congress and signed into law by Biden. The law is expected to funnel nearly $8 billion to Maryland infrastructure, including broadband internet, roads and bridges.

Biden’s new order, which goes into effect immediately, targets an industry that has taken some of the largest hits since the pandemic. It also directs the Department of Labor and the Office of Management Budget to lead trainings for implementing the new requirements for the current contracting workforce.

Union workers also heard from Vice President Kamala Harris and Labor Secretary Martin Walsh.

“When the United States needs something to be built right, we turn to union workers,” Harris said. “They are well-trained and well-prepared to get the big jobs done and to do them right, not to mention on time and on budget.”

Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, a Democratic candidate for governor, welcomed Biden to Maryland on Twitter and voiced his support for project labor agreements.

“Labor must have a seat at the table, which is why I will pair a bold expansion of Maryland’s public works with a commitment to robust PLAs on every project,” said Franchot, who has earned the backing of a large construction union, LIUNA.

Last year, Franchot voted in favor of a design contract for the expansion of portions of the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270 after the contractor and state Department of Transportation signed a letter agreeing that a project labor agreement would be part of the massive construction project.

Former U.S. and Maryland Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who has also attracted union support in his bid for governor, tweeted that Biden’s executive order “will lower cost, improve timeliness, and increase quality in construction projects. You will have a partner in the Perez-Sneed administration.”

Serhan Ajaj is a 18-year veteran of Ironworkers Local 5. He started his four-year apprenticeship on March 4, 2002 — a date that is still fresh in his head because that is the day he said his life changed in the best possible way. He now enjoys good insurance, a retirement plan and competitive wages.

“(Biden) gave me hope that they are going to continue to provide for my family the same type of life, the same quality of life I’ve been providing them,” he said.

His wife and three kids have also benefited from his union work. When his wife found herself in the hospital a few years ago, the Ajajs did not pay one bill out-of-pocket thanks to the union benefits.

Ajaj said he plans to continue working in Ironworker Local 5 for another 12 years until his retirement.

The ironworkers fashioned a steel “46” for Biden, but the president said the welcome gift was so heavy he didn’t think he could take it back to the White House.

In his remarks before signing the order, Biden took note of some ironworkers sitting above him. He recalled that while running for president, he visited a construction site where he saw a group of ironworkers having lunch on a beam 12 stories above the ground.

“You’re nuts,” the president joked. “Thank God you are. You gotta not only have some brains but you have to be coordinated to be an ironworker.”

Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report. 


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In Maryland, Biden Signs Order Affecting 200,000 Workers in Federal Building Contracts