Bush to Sign Orders Curtailing Labor's Influence

By Frank Swoboda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 17, 2001; Page E01

President Bush soon will sign four executive orders designed to curb the power of organized labor in government contracting, senior White House officials confirmed yesterday.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called the action "mean spirited and anti-worker" and said it was "pure retribution" for labor's support of Democratic candidates in the last elections.

White House officials did not say when the president would sign the orders but indicated it could be in a matter of days.

At least one of the orders Bush intends to sign apparently would end a practice for labor-management cooperation in government that the business community and congressional Republicans have been pushing for years to extend to the private sector.

The order would scrap the National Partnership Council, which was created to allow labor and management in the federal government to meet and work out problems or consider new ways to operate in the workplace. It is similar to the TEAM Act -- being pushed by the business community -- that would allow nonunion workers to work with employers to solve workplace problems. That is now generally illegal.

Two other orders were first signed by Bush's father in the waning months of his administration more than eight years ago and immediately rescinded by then-president Bill Clinton.

One would require federal contractors to post notices advising employees that they have the right to withhold the portion of union dues that are used for political purposes without fear of being fired. The right was granted under a 1988 Supreme Court ruling.
Currently, union members cannot withhold the so-called agency fees unless they resign from the union. In closed shops, where union membership is required as a condition of employment, workers who resign from the union risk being fired.

The other executive order originally signed by Bush's father would ban what are known as "project agreements." These are construction contracts signed with unions for the life of a project that set wage rates and work rules for anyone working on that project. Nonunion construction companies are not banned from participating in such agreements, but they must abide by the terms set by the unions.

A senior White House official en route to Mexico with Bush said the president was signing the project-agreement order to better serve taxpayers by establishing neutrality in the competition for awarding contracts.

"Previously the government position was tipped to one side -- organized labor," the White House official said.

Under the fourth order, government contractors would no longer be required to hire employees who worked for a company that previously handled the same contract. This was designed to reduce turnover in low-wage jobs such as janitorial work.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company

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