With its membership in recession mode, the Associated Builders and Contractors drew only about 1,100 attendees to its 60th anniversary convention in San Diego earlier this month. But many of them packed a last-day, early-morning session to hear claims the open-shop trade group was managing to stave off new pro-labor moves by the Obama Administration and push supportive candidates in this year’s congressional elections.

The session was closed to nonmembers, but ABC legal counsel Maury Baskin, a Baltimore-based attorney, told ENR that, despite organized labor’s ramped-up attacks on open-shop construction, “the surprise is that we’ve held our own after the administration’s first year in office.”

Baskin said no project labor agreement has been imposed on any new federal construction contracts, despite an executive order issued during Obama’s first days in office encouraging federal agencies to require them. ABC has challenged the legality of that executive order.

In addition, Baskin said ABC has been successful in stalling congressional passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, the so-called card-check legislation he claims could boost union organizing in construction. He also pointed to ABC lobbying to slow approval of union labor lawyer Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board as well as success in educating members about ramped-up union use of tactics such as “salting” and “bannering” in a struggling economy.

Baskin added that as more ABC firms turn to public-sector work, they are encountering mandatory apprenticeship rules in local government contracts that lock merit- shop contractors out of bidding.

ABC National Chairman James W. Elmer, a Spokane, Wash., general contractor, claimed the percentage of union members in the labor force took a significant drop in 2009, to 14.5% from 15%.

But delegates still debated whether an economic recovery is on the horizon. Anirban Basu, ABC’s chief national economist, told attendees that “conditions appear to be improving for 2010, but I am worried about the economy slipping in 2011.”