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Incoming AGC-Puerto Rico president to challenge federal unionization rule

Engineer José Ortiz, who will be sworn in as the new president of the Associated General Contractors of America’s Puerto Rico chapter (AGC-P.R.) on Feb. 8, will begin his term by presenting the association’s 2024 work plan. The plan includes opposing a federal rule requiring contractors on significant federal construction projects to be unionized.

AGC-P.R. supports the national AGC’s lawsuit in federal court to halt what it called the Biden administration’s “unlawful effort” to mandate project labor agreements (PLAs) on major federal construction projects.

The AGC stated in a press release that, “unless stopped,” the government-mandated PLA final rule will require federal prime contractors and subcontractors to negotiate or consent to PLAs on federal projects valued at $35 million or more, starting with new contracts solicited on or after Jan. 22, with few exceptions.

In an interview with News is my Business, Ortiz said the association believes open shop contractors, or those without a union, should not be barred from federal projects. 

“We are not against companies that have union workers, nor that workers in a company want to be in a union, because that is a right they have, but workers or companies that don’t have or form part of a union should not be excluded from participating in the reconstruction of these works,” Ortiz stated, emphasizing that union membership should not be a requirement for contracts of more than $35 million.

The executive order requires companies and workers to be union members to participate in these large federal projects. 

“What we argue is that union affiliation should be voluntary,” he said.

Ortiz said that in Puerto Rico, only a small percentage of construction workers are unionized. He estimated “that more than 80% of contractors on the island are open-shop contractors.”

The White House issued a press release in December stating that Executive Order 14063 “promotes increased stability in federal contracting while uplifting workers in communities across the nation.”

“The rule requires the use of PLAs — a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement unique to construction — for large Federal construction projects, where total estimated cost to the Federal Government is $35 million or more (with limited exceptions),” the release detailed. “By requiring all parties — contractors, subcontractors, and unions — to negotiate set terms that govern project construction, the rule will lead to increased efficiency.”

The incoming trade group president mentioned that Puerto Rico has approximately 35,000 skilled construction workers but requires around 80,000 for all ongoing reconstruction projects. 

“In 2024, our goal is to have the first apprenticeship class under a formal learning program, and we are currently working on the curriculum,” Ortiz said. “It is almost ready to be submitted to the Department of Economic Development & Commerce (DDEC) and the DDEC is the entity that approves or doesn’t approve whether we can be the sponsors for formally instructing workers that we want to recruit to train on the job and formally in the classroom.”

The programs, potentially exceeding 2,000 hours, will target workers new to the construction sector. 

“We expect to offer the first class this year to entry-level workers,” he concluded.

Author Details
Author Details
Maria Miranda is an investigative reporter and editor with 20 years of experience in Puerto Rico’s English-language newspapers. In that capacity, she has worked on long-term projects and has covered breaking news under strict deadlines. She is proficient at mining data from public databases and interviewing people (both public figures and private sector individuals). She is also a translator, and has edited and translated an economy book on Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis. She worked as an interpreter for FEMA during the recent recovery efforts of Hurricane María and earned her FEMA badge.

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