America can build back better through fair and open competition
During President Biden’s rollout of the $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan from a union hall in Pittsburgh last month, he admitted he is a “union guy,” and wants to give unions “a piece of the action.”
This is why his plan urges Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act — a draconian rewrite of America’s labor and employment laws. The costly PRO Act, which is the union lobby’s top legislative priority, would devastate the economic recovery of America’s workers, small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Among the dozens of troubling provisions overturning decades of established labor laws, the PRO Act would undermine 27 states’ right-to-work laws, suffocate the freelance and gig economy, permit disruptive secondary boycotts on construction job sites and violate workers’ privacy rights.
Even the American Bar Association opposes sections of the PRO Act because it would “seriously undermine both the confidential attorney-client relationship and employers’ fundamental right to legal counsel” during union organizing campaigns in workplaces.
In addition, less than half of Biden’s plan funds roads, bridges, utilities, schools and other infrastructure — which is not enough to address America’s projected $2.6 trillion infrastructure investment shortfall by 2029 — and the Biden administration wants those taxpayer-funded construction projects to be built by only union labor.
The plan calls on Congress to tie federal investments in clean energy and infrastructure to controversial government-mandated project labor agreement schemes and other pro-labor policies that will increase the cost of construction and deny quality jobs to talented local workers and contractors who want to compete on a level playing field to rebuild their communities.
Government-mandated Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) steer federal and federally-funded construction contracts to unionized contractors and create jobs exclusively for union labor at the expense of hardworking taxpayers and nonunion construction workers, who comprise 87 percent of the U.S. construction industry and freely choose not to affiliate with unions.
Research shows anti-competitive PLA mandates increase construction costs by up to 20 percent and result in fewer infrastructure improvements and new jobs for local construction workers, who face an 8.6 percent unemployment rate.
If the Biden administration is serious about building more affordable housing, clean and renewable energy projects and repairing America’s crumbling infrastructure while creating high-paying construction jobs for all Americans, why would it promote harmful policies that restrict 87 percent of the industry from participating simply because they are not affiliated with unions? This diverse majority includes local, small, veteran, disabled, women- and minority-owned contractors and workers — hardworking taxpayers who ultimately foot the bill.
Why does the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan fail to acknowledge the millions of American construction workers pursuing their career dreams through well-paying, nonunion jobs? Is this the American Jobs Plan or the Union Jobs Plan?
The answer, of course, is politics. As Biden administration officials continue to sell the American Jobs Plan, listen for the familiar refrain that it will create union jobs. Rewarding powerful special interests through anti-competitive policies rarely translates into positive outcomes for America.
With Congress tasked with crafting an infrastructure bill and finding a way to pay for it, expect the U.S. House to pass partisan legislation loaded with similar pro-union language spawned by the Green New Deal and its ilk.
In contrast, the Senate has a real opportunity to responsibly invest in America’s infrastructure with effective bipartisan policies that create value for taxpayers and jobs for all of the construction industry, regardless of labor affiliation.
Congress ought to take a hard look at including Sen. Todd Young’s (R-Ind.) Fair and Open Competition Act in infrastructure legislation to restrict problematic, government-mandated PLA schemes on federal and federally assisted construction projects. In the last decade, a total of 25 states have passed similar fair and open competition laws because hardworking taxpayers deserve more efficient and effective policies that will encourage all qualified contractors and their skilled workforce to compete to build long-lasting, quality state and local projects at the best price.
At a time when our economy is showing signs of recovery, the Biden administration and Congress should support policies that help bring our economic engine roaring back to life. Fair and open competition on taxpayer-funded construction projects will ultimately result in savings to taxpayers, more opportunities and jobs for all qualified local small businesses, minorities and women in the construction industry, and the construction of more quality infrastructure projects so America can Build Back Better and faster.
Ben Brubeck is vice president of Regulatory, Labor and State Affairs for Associated Builders and Contractors in Washington, D.C.