This was a vote on a motion to table (kill) an amendment offered by Sen. Vitter (R-LA) to S. 181, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. The Vitter Amendment would have prohibited ffederal agencies from requiring that project labor agreements (PLAs) on federally-funded construction require that only union workers be employed on that construction. PLAs are agreements which contractors and labor organizations establish to set the terms of employment for large projects. S.181, to which the amendment was offered, changed the law to say that the 180 day statute of limitations for filing a pay discrimination suit begins again with each new paycheck that contains the unfair pay.
Vitter began his statement in support of the amendment by saying “Congress has a duty to ensure that infrastructure projects paid for by taxpayers are free from favoritism, and these interests would not be served if Congress were to require union-only project labor agreements.” He noted that S.181 relates to employment discrimination and cited a 2008 Bureau of Labor Statistics report showing that “only 13.9 percent of America's private construction work force belongs to a labor union. So this means that union-only project labor agreements discriminate against well over 8 out of 10 construction workers in America who would otherwise be able to work on those projects.” Vitter went then argued that “(T)his discrimination is harmful to women and minority-owned construction businesses whose workers have traditionally been underrepresented in unions, mainly due to artificial and societal barriers to union apprenticeship and training programs.”
Vitter concluded by noting that his amendment had the support of the Associated Builders and Contractors, The Associated General Contractors of America, the National Federation of Independent Business, the National Association of Minority Contractors, the National Association of Disadvantaged Businesses, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, , and the Women Construction Owners and Executives.
Sen. Mikulski (D-MD), who was leading the effort on behalf of S.181, opposed the amendment. She argued that PLAs “benefit both the Government and workers. History has shown they produce high-quality jobs, high-quality work that is completed efficiently and effectively, on time, and meeting the bottom line of the bid.” She also argued that “it is not true that PLAs require union-only labor. Project labor agreements have been used for years to help construction companies run effectively and efficiently. State and local governments often use these agreements because they know they are going to get a good job at the price that has been bid. These agreements help keep costs predictable and under control. That is critical for large Federal projects . . . Project labor agreements ensure that wages and benefits and working conditions are simply fair. Instead of embracing these benefits, the Vitter Amendment would prohibit the use of it.”
In response to Vitter’s argument that PLAs restrict competition, Mikulski noted that “(U)nder President Clinton, both union and nonunion contractors were able to win bids. All construction workers could work on projects governed by project labor agreements . . . Project labor agreements do not require union-only labor. That is a myth. It has no basis in reality. It has no basis in statute.” Vitter answered by insisting that minority and women workers “are often shut out or disadvantaged through those agreements because of historical factors. That is one reason . . . those organizations I cited, including organizations representing minority- and women-owned businesses . . . strongly support my amendment.
A motion to table is an effort to kill a pending bill or amendment, in this case the Vitter Amendment. The vote on the motion to table the amendment was 59-38 on an almost straight party line basis. Fifth-seven Democrats and two Republicans voted “aye”. All thirty-eight “nay” votes were cast by Republicans. As a result, no change was made in the rules permitting federal agencies to require in agreements that only union workers be employed on federally-funded construction projects.