Proposed Rule for PLA Will Substantially Shift Federal Construction Landscape

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Carolyn R. Cody-Jones and Luke W. Meier  ●

The FAR Council recently published a proposed rule mandating the use of project labor agreements (“PLAs”) on federal construction projects where the total estimated cost to the government is $35 million or more. See FAR Case 2022-003, 87 FR 51044 (Aug. 19, 2022). The proposed rule codifies President Biden’s February 4, 2022, Executive Order No. 14063. 87 FR 7363 (Feb. 9, 2022). Certain exceptions apply, and for projects below $35 million whether to mandate PLAs is left to the discretion of each federal agency. A PLA is a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement with one or more labor organizations that establishes the terms and conditions of employment for a specific construction project.

Why it’s significant: The proposal rule, and the underlying Executive Order, further enhance an Obama-era Executive Order that encouraged PLAs on federal construction projects over $25 million, but did not require it. 74 FR 6985 (Feb. 11, 2009). The new Executive Order puts forth the new rule to seek increased “economy and efficiency,” arguing that large-scale construction projects can create “special challenges” for efficient and timely procurement, and contractor labor disputes can cause significant project delays. During the Obama and Trump Administrations, construction industry trade groups sought revocation of the Obama Executive Order, arguing it increases taxpayer costs and filing pre-award bid protests against agencies implementing a PLA requirement, in order to have it removed. During the time that rule was in effect, between 2009 and 2021, the FAR Council estimated that a PLA was used only 12 times despite there being roughly 2,000 eligible contracts. The new Biden Executive Order and proposed rule firmly moves the industry requirements on federal projects in the opposite direction and establishes a clear federal prerogative for PLAs on large construction projects.

Effects on the industry: Once in effect, the proposed rule will cause a significant shift in the federal construction industry. Recent Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates show that only 12.6 percent of the construction work force belong to unions. This means a contractor may face staffing challenges arising from a restricted pool of potential candidates. The FAR Council notes in the proposed rule that the average number of construction awards valued at $35 million or more, from Fiscal Year 2019 through Fiscal Year 2021, was approximately 119 annually, with an average cost of $114 million per award.

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