By LEIGH STROPE, AP Labor Writer
Saturday August 4, 2001
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Teamsters union threw its support behind the Bush administration energy plan with a commitment that the jobs created by new drilling in Alaska's arctic refuge would be on terms favorable to organized labor.
Tucked away on page 487 of the 510-page energy bill passed by the House this week is a measure requiring oil and gas companies holding the government leases and their contractors to negotiate labor agreements with unions representing the kinds of workers sought for the projects.
But one of President Bush's first actions after taking office was to kill the Clinton-era policy for such labor agreements and to bar them from all federal projects.
The agreements prohibit awarding contracts to bidders that do not meet terms that typically set union-scale wages and, and often require hiring through union halls, though nonunion workers can't be excluded. In exchange, unions agree to provide a continuous work force and promise not to strike.
The House energy bill says such agreements are required as a lease condition “in recognizing the government's proprietary interest in labor stability and in the ability of construction labor and management to meet the particular needs and conditions of projects.”
Bush's February executive order repealing the agreements cited a desire to maintain government neutrality toward contractors and to reduce costs on federal projects.
But the White House softened its stance after 2,500 union construction workers descended on Capitol Hill to protest the decision, and Bush issued a new order in April that allowed existing agreements to proceed.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan sidestepped questions about the requirement, saying only that the bill is “largely consistent with the administration's national energy plan” and that “we are continuing to work with Congress to improve upon this legislation.”
Asked about the provision's significance to the Teamsters' support of the bill, Jerry Hood, a Teamsters official from Alaska who has led the union's lobbying on the issue, said: “Crucial? No. Important? Yes.”
Intense lobbying by the Teamsters and other unions representing the construction and maritime trades was credited with swaying a number of Democrats and moderate Republicans for House passage Thursday.
“I think they played a key role,” Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said afterward.
The Teamsters even aired radio ads in support of the bill, promoting the 75,000 new “good jobs, union jobs” it could provide. The issue divided organized labor, which typically aligns with Democrats and environmental groups.
Hood said the Teamsters asked Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, to add the labor agreement provision to the bill. The union has a history of successful work in Alaska, such as building the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, he said.
“To make sure we do it safely and in an environmentally responsible manner, and to get the skilled, safe work force, I think all folks realize the best way to accomplish this is through a project labor agreement,” Hood said.
The administration's initial opposition prompted Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., to point out the provision in the energy bill requiring such agreements.
“Perhaps the president realizes he made a big mistake,” Rahall said. “And maybe corporate America has reconsidered and concluded that project labor agreements are good ideas after all.”