President Joe Biden signs an executive order on project labor agreements at Ironworkers Local 5 building in Largo, Maryland, on Feb. 4. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
President Joe Biden signs an executive order on project labor agreements at Ironworkers Local 5 building in Largo, Maryland, on Feb. 4. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

President Joe Biden stopped by Ironworkers Local 5 building in Largo to sign an executive order to allow unions more of an opportunity to participate in federal government projects while negotiating with contractors.

The president said the collective bargaining deals, formally called project labor agreements (PLAs), “will help defuse problems before they arise.”

With a few exceptions, “every single project that we’re talking about that is paid for in federal dollars, that’s a federal project, is going to be union jobs,” Biden said Friday, Feb. 4 as he looked at the iron workers in the crowd. “You guys are generally the best in the world.”

Biden said it will also allow for projects to be completed at lower costs.

“The executive order is making sure that federal construction projects get completed on time and under budget [and] saving taxpayers money,” he said.

Vice President Kamala Harris joined the president and highlighted how the nation’s economy remains “the strongest in the world.” The job market report released Friday by the U.S. Department of Labor showed the country added 467,000 jobs in January.

The vice president also wanted to accentuate the administration’s support of union workers.

“We are unequivocal and clear with our relationship not only to us and our administration but to our country and the working men and women of America,” she said. “When the United States needs something built right, we turn to union workers.”

The executive order comes as billions of dollars are expected to arrive in states including Maryland as part of the president’s $1.9 trillion infrastructure bill the president signed last year.

Maryland anticipates receiving $7 billion that includes: nearly $800 million for highway work; $400 million for bridge repairs; $140 million toward water infrastructure improvements; and $31.5 million for airports.

“[It’s about] greater investment in modernizing our bridges, our roads, our transit. But also making sure as we do this, we make sure workers are paid good wages and have good benefits,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland), who attended the bill signing Friday. 

“That’s what unions are all about. Making sure you put skilled workers on the job,” he said. 

The Ironworkers Local 5 operation moved to Largo more than two years with union offices and a large shop where union members learn how to erect steel, install window walls and lift machinery sometimes weighing several tons.

One of its members, Carnita Jordan, said she received doubts from a former employee because she “was a young woman and stuck in a truck all day,” so she applied for the Local 5 four-year apprenticeship program

She graduates this summer and because of the knowledge and experience she secured in welding, structural and other construction work, she’ll be eligible to work at any union shop across the nation. 

“Project labor agreements also help create diversity and help and bring in people like me who’ve been historically pushed out from the construction industry,” said Jordan, 27, of Charles County, Md. “This order will help the country build back better with opportunities for all Americans of every race and gender.”

The union, chartered in 1901, represents more than 1,000 ironworkers in the Mid-Atlantic region. In Maryland, members reside in Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s counties and portions of Anne Arundel and Frederick counties.

The Biden administration’s visit to Largo marked at least its fifth to Prince George’s County within a year. Harris visited the majority Black jurisdiction four times and which included a stop at National Harbor in July during which she headlined the National Association of Counties (NACo) conference – her first as vice president.

Jennifer Granholm, secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy, toured the New Carrollton Federal Building in December. She joined Biden and Harris in Largo on Friday.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said talks continue which may eventually result in the relocation of current or construction of new federal government agencies in the county including the long-debated FBI headquarters which remains headquartered in downtown D.C.

Alsobrooks noted that while an estimated 20% of the federal workforce resides in the county, only 4% of federal agencies are currently located in Prince George’s. 

“It’s an equity issue. We believe that the [federal] presence should be here, too,” she said. “The administration has been very amenable to it and very welcoming and receptive to it. We’re excited about what we can accomplish together.”

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Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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