A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., has affirmed a White House executive order that effectively prohibits project labor agreements on federally funded construction projects. The court's July 12 ruling in the case, Building and Construction Trades Dept., AFL-CIO v. Allbaugh, is a win for open-shop contractors.

BCTD President Edward C. Sullivan

In its decision, the court says that the president has the authority to issue the executive order and also that the White House directive is not preempted by the National Labor Relations Act.

Writing for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Chief Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg says the order "clearly constitutes proprietary action rather than regulation." He adds, "The principles of NLRA preemption come into play only when the government is 'regulating without a protected zone,' and not when it is acting as a proprietor."

Ken Adams, chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors, calls the ruling "a major victory for the U.S. construction industry as it ensures a neutral government position and restores full and open competition in the federal contracting process."

The battle over the labor pacts on federal projects began during the first Bush administration, when an executive order banning PLAs was issued. President Clinton overturned that order.

In February 2001, President George W. Bush issued a new order, stipulating that the contracting authority can neither require nor prohibit PLAs. In April 2001, the building trades filed suit to bar enforcement of that directive. The unions won that round last August when a federal district court judge overturned Bush's order. The Bush administration appealed that decision in November 2001, resulting in the July 12 ruling.

BCTD President Edward C. Sullivan says he is "bitterly disappointed" by the latest decision and that the unions will consider their legal options, including whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Sullivan contends that the ruling allows "restrictions on the manner in which federal funds are used, without regard to the impact of those restrictions on rights the National Labor Relations Act grants to the employers and employees working on projects using those funds."