Promise tucked into energy bill helped secure passage

Posted: Tuesday, August 07, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Rep. Don Young tucked a promise into the energy bill that secured the support of organized labor and helped the bill pass in the House last week.

The bill, which the Senate is expected to take up in September, promises that jobs created by new drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would favor organized labor.

Jerry Hood, a Teamsters Union official from Alaska, said he asked Young, R-Alaska, to add the labor agreement provision to the bill.

''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.

Hood said the inclusion of the agreement helped persuade 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 promise runs counter to one of President Bush's first actions as president, in which he barred such labor agreements from all federal projects.

The language 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 they 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.

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 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 that allowed existing agreements to proceed.

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