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Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. LaTOURETTE. Mr. Chairman, I have an amendment at the desk.

The Acting CHAIR. The Clerk will report the amendment.

The Clerk read as follows:

Page 60, strike lines 16 through 21.

The Acting CHAIR. The gentleman from Ohio is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. LaTOURETTE. This is a simple, straightforward amendment.

During the committee markup of the Military Construction bill, under the able leadership of the subcommittee chairman, an amendment was offered by Mr. Flake of Arizona to deny funding to the President's Executive order dealing with project labor agreements. The matter was accepted by voice vote. It was accepted by voice vote because, quite frankly, I couldn't rustle up enough votes in the committee to overturn it.

However, this continues a pattern that we've seen in this Congress. I believe we've had on the floor four votes on whether or not Davis-Bacon should be the law of the land. In each one of the cases, the proponents of Davis-Bacon have been successful, the last one garnering 52 Republican votes. This would be the third vote by those who would wish to do away with project labor agreements that will occur on the House floor. In the previous two, again, the proponents of project labor agreements have prevailed. In the last instance, 28 Republicans were, in fact, supportive of project labor agreements.

Mr. Chairman, basically, project labor agreements are those agreements wherein someone who is doing a construction project determines that they want to have an all-encompassing universal agreement that covers the construction from start to finish. If union labor is involved, it denies unions the ability to strike. It denies the contractor the ability to lock out. Wages are set. Terms are set. Conditions are set. And, quite frankly, the project labor agreements have been resounding successes.

As a matter of fact, project labor agreements, 90 percent of them are used by private industry. Some of the biggest users of project labor agreements are the Disney Corporation and, in fact, Walmart. So neither of those companies have ever been sort of identified as big labor-loving organizations.

Now, this is a backdoor piece of language in line 16 to 21 because it doesn't attack project labor agreements. What it does is, if you go back and look in February when President Obama enacted this Executive order, he said: I don't know which is going to be better and which is going to be cheaper, based upon the size of the project, where the project is located, what it is we want to get done.

So funds are appropriated to the agencies. Say it's the Department of Veterans Affairs and they're going build a new hospital. You say, Department of Veterans Affairs, you study which is going to bring that project in at the best quality, the best price, on time, and giving the taxpayer the best bang for his or her buck.

Well, this amendment strikes that funding. And so it doesn't say you can't use project labor agreements. What it does say is that the agency can't make that comparison. And if you're not making that comparison to find out which is better for the taxpayer, which is in fact going to cause the project to come in at the lowest cost and with the best quality and under time, then it has nothing to do with saving the taxpayer money.

We hear a lot about these are tough times and we have to tighten our belts. I agree with that. I voted for that consistently. But that is just union bashing. This is just saying we don't want to know whether a project labor agreement can develop a project that is cheaper, of better quality, and under time.

Quite frankly, although there are studies on both sides, there is an organization called ABC. They have a study that shows that it adds so much cost. You have a study by organized labor that says it reduces so much cost. I choose not to look at either of those because each of those folks and organizations, quite frankly, have some skin in the fight and have some incentive, if you will, to look at the data one way or another.

I would go with our nonpartisan, bipartisan Congressional Research Service, which last October was asked to study this issue, and they indicated, quite frankly, that the jury is out and, if anything, the data indicates that they really can't say and they can't find any convincing data as to whether or not project labor agreements save money or don't save money, which really is the genius of the President's Executive order because it says you should study it.

Quite frankly, the CRS goes on to indicate that in those areas of the country where there's a lot of organized labor, the project labor agreements tend to bring these projects in on time, under cost, with better quality. In those areas of the country which aren't heavily unionized, the opposite is, in fact, true.

So with the jury being out and all of us wanting to achieve the greatest savings for the taxpayer and build good, quality projects in the military construction account which benefits our men and women in uniform, why would we deny the departments the opportunity to study which way is cheaper, better, more effective, and with a better quality? So there's only one reason. It's to continue this constant drumbeat of: We hate unions. And that's not a good reason to have this language in the bill.

I urge support of the amendment.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. LaTOURETTE. Will the gentleman yield?

Mr. DICKS. I yield to the gentleman from Ohio.

Mr. LaTOURETTE. I thank the distinguished ranking member very much; and, you know, Mr. Harris from Maryland is a wonderful new Member, and I enjoyed his remarks very much and his passion, and it would be a compelling argument if his facts were correct.

The difficulty is no one on this floor would support project labor agreements if the evidence was that project labor agreements increased the cost of a construction project by 10 to 20 percent. The study cited by Mr. Culberson, the chairman of the Subcommittee, by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, concluded that the effect of PLAs on construction costs was strongly influenced by the degree of unionization in an area. In highly unionized cities, the costs of a PLA are less and the project comes in under cost, under time, better quality. And those that don't have, as apparently the First District of Maryland doesn't have as many unions, the evidence does, in fact, come in; in some of those cases costs can increase by 5 to 9 percent, not 10 to 20.

But the problem with this language is, it doesn't condemn project labor agreements. This is an appropriations bill. What this amendment does is deprive the agency of the funds to study in your area--my area happens to be heavily unionized, so Cleveland, Ohio--prevents the VA from studying whether or not use of the PLA would save the government money or cost the government money.

And I've got to tell you, if the conclusion is that it's going to cost the government money, it's like ``I Love Lucy'' and Ricky Ricardo. I mean, I'm sure that somebody is going to ask the head of that agency, you know, you've got a lot of explaining to do why you went with a program that's going to cost the government more money.

That isn't what this is about. This is union bashing. This isn't costing or saving money. It's just we don't like unions, and I thank the gentleman for yielding.


Mr. LaTOURETTE. Will the gentlewoman yield?

Ms. RICHARDSON. I yield to the gentleman from Ohio.

Mr. LaTOURETTE. First of all, I want to thank the gentlewoman very much. I want the body to know that Ms. Richardson was going to offer this amendment and, over the weekend, permitted me to offer it as a member of the committee. I appreciate that very much. She is certainly a champion of PLAs.

I want to address the gentleman from Georgia's observations because he is

[Page: H4051]

exactly right, and it doesn't change anything that I said.

The VA said that you should study both PLAs and non-PLAs based upon the area of the country. Now, he is correct. The VA study said that in three of the five that they studied, PLAs would have increased labor costs. It doesn't say anything about the benefit from having increased quality, on time, and all that other business.

But what happened to the other two? In 40 percent of them, the answer is either there was no difference or they reduced costs, which is exactly the point. The amendment strikes out the language inserted in the bill by the gentleman from Arizona (Mr. Flake) that would prevent an agency from studying which way gets you the bigger bang for the buck. Why would we want to do that?

I thank the gentlelady.


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