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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Infrastructure Jobs for Union Workers Only?

Q: Did Obama require that all infrastructure jobs in the stimulus bill go to union workers?

A: Obama didn’t set a requirement. He issued an executive order that "encourage[s] executive agencies to consider requiring" union labor for "large-scale" government contracts.


I received this e-mail from a friend. Is it true that President Obama signed an Executive Order that gives the infrastructure jobs that are in the stimulus bill to union workers only?

President Obama quietly signs Pro-Union Executive Order

February 9, 2009

While everyone is talking about the pork laden stimulus that Obama and many Democrats in Congress are pushing, President Obama very quietly signed a pro union executive order on Friday. It ordered the use of union labor for federal construction projects. This is one of the most blatant payoffs I have ever seen.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has made the following statement.

"President Obama’s executive order will drive up the cost of government at a time when we should be doing everything possible to save taxpayer dollars. Federal contracts should go to the businesses that can offer taxpayers the best value – not just the unions who supported the Democrats’ campaigns last year. Quietly signing executive orders to payback campaign backers undermines Obama’s promise to change Washington. It is a disappointment for Americans hoping for more transparency and less politics as usual in Washington ."

I would have to agree with everything the chairman said. It is nothing less than a payoff to the unions who supported his campaign with both money and troops. And the fact that it was done with no media coverage shows that he once again is trying to slip one by Americans, which is anything but transparent.


It’s not often that we receive chain e-mails that actually check out, but this one, while exaggerated, is largely right. On Feb. 6, Obama issued Executive Order 13502 that encourages federal agencies to "consider requiring the use of project labor agreements in connection with large-scale construction projects in order to promote economy and efficiency in Federal procurement." A project labor agreement requires contractors and subcontractors to pay union wages and to recognize collective bargaining agreements. The order "does not require" project labor agreements, but it’s reasonable to say that "encouragement" from the president is likely to carry considerable weight with federal agencies.

As for RNC Chair Michael Steele’s allegation that the order constitutes "payback" for the unions who supported Obama’s campaign, well, we don’t have any way to know Obama’s motives. What Obama says is that the policy will help to make labor costs more predictable and will prevent construction delays by nipping labor disputes in the bud. Critics, such as the Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade group representing non-union construction firms, agree with Steele. ABC says that by eliminating bids from non-union contractors, the measure will increase costs for American taxpayers.

It is worth noting that the first President Bush prohibited project labor agreements on federal projects in 1992. President Clinton reversed that policy shortly after taking office in 1993. The second President Bush put it back in 2001. Now Obama has returned to Clinton’s policy. We’ll leave it to you to decide whether that pattern reflects ideological differences or "paybacks."

-Joe Miller


Bush, George H.W. "Executive Order 12818." 23 October 1992. The American Presidency Project. Accessed 18 February 2009.

Clinton, William J. "Executive Order 12836." 1 February 1993. The National Archives. Accessed 18 February 2009. 

Bush, George W. "Executive Order 13202." 17 February 2001. Wikisource. Accessed 18 February 2009.

Obama, Barack H. "Executive Order 13502." 6 February 2009. The White House. Accessed 18 February 2009.