Biden to sign executive order bolstering rights of 200,000 construction workers

US President Joe Biden speaks about a US Special Forces operation in northern Syria against Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi, from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, USA United, February 3, 2022. REUTERS / Sarah Silbiger

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WASHINGTON, Feb 3 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden will sign an executive order on Friday requiring “project work agreements” on federal construction projects over $35 million, a potential boost to workers and unions who are negotiating these deals and a change the administration says will speed up construction times.

The order will apply to $262 billion in federal construction contracts and affect nearly 200,000 workers, the White House said late Thursday, confirming news first reported by Reuters.

Project work agreements are collective bargaining agreements between construction unions and contractors, which set wages, terms of employment and dispute resolution on specific projects. In the past, Democratic presidents have generally supported applying such agreements to the massive US federal contract budget, while Republican presidents have overruled them.

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The order, which will take effect immediately, follows a $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed by Biden that invests in the country’s roads, ports and bridges.

Much of that money will flow through federal agencies to state and local governments. The new executive order excludes projects funded by grants to nonfederal agencies, a senior administration official said, adding that it will offset the bulk of the projects under the bill. But it will apply to billions of other federal spending on waterways, military bases and other areas.

The White House said Biden will travel to Ironworkers Local 5 in Upper Marlboro, Md., on Friday to sign the new executive order, joined by Vice President Kamala Harris and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.

The U.S. construction industry – including workers, owners, developers and contractors – has been one of the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to a slowdown in goods and available manpower and the shutdown of entire projects.

Biden pledged to strengthen unions and increase membership in the United States after years of steady decline, and to raise wages for hourly workers in construction, health care and other jobs.

“Contractors who offer lower wages or hire less skilled workers will have to raise their standards to compete with other high-wage, high-quality businesses,” the order says, according to a draft viewed by Reuters. An earlier executive action by Biden requires federal contractors in new or extended contracts to pay a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

Biden’s decision was hailed by some entrepreneurs.

“It streamlines the bargaining process and gives employers access to a pool of highly skilled tradespeople,” Daniel Hogan, chief executive of the Association of Union Constructors, which represents 1,800 contracting firms, told Reuters.

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Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Heather Timmons, Aurora Ellis and Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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