Employees of engineering firms perform critical roles on construction sites. These include field representatives and surveyors monitoring that the work is being performed in compliance with design documents. To perform such work, these personnel remain independent and objective in the critical roles they play on the construction site. The recent Administration Executive Order 13502 (Use of Project Labor Agreements for Federal Construction Projects), requires project labor agreements (PLAs) for large-scale projects involving federal funds. A PLA is pre-hire collective bargaining agreement that establishes the overall terms and conditions of employment for a specific construction project. It is intended to avoid labor disputes generated by multiple employers at a project site, differing employment terms and conditions, and the absence of an agreed-upon mechanism to resolve frictions and disputes that could impact the efficient and timely completion of the construction. While this Executive Order is directed at construction labor, its terms do not exclude designers, site engineers, surveyors, and other engineering related site personnel.
This Executive Order, along with others (EOs 13494, 13495 and 13496), and support for “card-check” initiatives has strengthened and emboldened labor unions in their efforts to organize employees in the engineering sector. In the past, such efforts have produced a climate in which engineering firm representatives have been forced to vacate construction sites because they are not union members. Without the information gathered by field representatives, engineers cannot verify that construction is proceeding in accordance with the design. This quality assurance/quality control process is vital to protect public welfare, safety and health.
ACEC is concerned that the quality assurance/quality control role is compromised if engineering field representatives and surveyors are not specifically excluded from PLA coverage. PLA coverage and unionization would likely create a conflict of interest, pitting the field representative’s oversight role against the interests of fellow union members among the construction workers. Union by-laws often prohibit members from creating conflicts within the ranks, or prohibit a union member from being critical of another member’s work. ACEC believes that the potential conflict of interest is obvious. It is a conflict of interest that could compromise project success and in addition to weakening public safety, creates liability to the engineering firm.
ACEC believes that legislation should be enacted to specifically exclude employees of engineering firms from being parties to PLAs and discourage their representation by unions that represent or are affiliated with trades that also include construction, operations, and/or maintenance workers. This is required to avoid conflicts of interest and to protect the public and property from short- and long-term harm and prevent negative impact on the performance, costs, and schedules of projects being implemented.