Energy bill: Alaska drilling jobs will favor unions

Posted: Sunday, August 05, 2001

WASHINGTON -- The energy bill passed by the House includes a promise that jobs created by new drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge will favor organized labor.

Jerry Hood, a Teamsters Union official from Alaska, said he 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 oil pipeline, Hood 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," he said.

But the measure, tucked away on page 487 of the 510-page bill passed last week, runs counter to one of President Bush's first actions as president, in which he barred such labor agreements from all federal projects.

The inclusion of the agreement helped convince the Teamsters union to support the Bush energy plan.

"Crucial? No. Important? Yes," said Hood, who has led the union's lobbying on the bill.

The measure in the energy bill requires oil and gas companies holding the government leases in Alaska -- as well as their contractors -- to negotiate labor agreements with unions representing the kinds of workers needed for the projects.

Labor agreements prohibit awarding contracts to bidders that do not meet union-scale wages and benefits, 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.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan sidestepped questions about the requirement, saying only that the House 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."

The House 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."

Intense lobbying by the Teamsters and other unions representing construction trades 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.

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 allowing existing agreements to proceed.

The administration's opposition to labor agreements prompted Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., to point out the "intriguing 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."

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