Biden joins ironworkers in Upper Marlboro to sign federal labor protections into law

President Joe Biden reacts after signing an executive order on project labor agreements at the Ironworkers Local 5 in Upper Marlboro, Md., Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, right, applaud. (Photo AP/Carolyn Kaster)

President Joe Biden joined union members at Ironworkers Local 5 in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, where he signed an executive order that gives construction workers new protections for federally contracted projects.

According to the White House, the executive order requires federal construction contracts worth more than $35 million to use project labor agreements.

The order, which goes into effect immediately, will affect an estimated 200,000 union workers in an industry that has taken severe economic hits due to the pandemic.

Project labor agreements (PLA) are legal mechanisms by which the terms and conditions for workers on an individual project are determined. Within the new executive order, any contractor who is awarded a federal contract must co-sign the PLA with any union representing their labor force.

On Friday, Biden said of the agreements, “They ensure that major projects are handled by well-trained, well-prepared, highly-skilled workers, and they ward off problems. They resolve disputes ahead of time, ensuring safer work sites, avoiding disruptions and work stoppages that can cause expensive delays down the line.”

Before signing the order, Biden spotted some ironworkers sitting in the rafters above him. He mentioned that, during the presidential campaign, he had witnessed other ironworkers taking their lunch on beams 12 stories above ground.

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

People listen as President Joe Biden speaks before signing an executive order on project labor agreements at the Ironworkers Local 5 in Upper Marlboro, Md., Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. (Photo AP/Carolyn Kaster)

Biden was joined onstage by Vice-President Kamala Harris, Labor Secretary Martin Walsh and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

“When the United States needs something to be built right, we turn to union workers. 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,” the vice president said during her remarks.

In 2009, former President Barack Obama signed an executive order that encouraged federal agencies to require PLA’s on projects budgeted for more than $25 million. The new order from President Biden will make the use of PLA’s mandatory.

At the event, members of Ironworkers Local 5 presented Biden with a large steel cast “46.” The president thanked the union members for the gift but said it was so heavy he may not be able to carry it back to the White House.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Joshua Barlow

Joshua Barlow is a writer, composer, and producer who has worked for CGTN, Atlantic Public Media, and National Public Radio. He lives in Northeast Washington, D.C., where he pays attention to developments in his neighborhood, economic issues, and social justice.

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