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Remarks on Signing an Executive Order on the Use of Project Labor Agreements for Federal Construction Projects in Upper Marlboro, Maryland

February 04, 2022

The President. That's progress. You know—[applause]—folks, thank you. [Laughter] Thank you.

Before I begin my somewhat formal remarks, walking in here today and seeing you guys sitting on that beam—first Local ever to endorse me was a guy named Tommy Schrank in Elsmere, Delaware, Local Ironworkers. And he asked me to come out to a site. They took me up on an elevator outside. There was four of them, crazy sons of guns like you all, sitting and having their lunch on a beam, I guess, about 12 stories above the ground.

You're nuts. [Laughter] And thank God you are. I tell you what: You've got to not only have some brains, but you got to be coordinated to be an ironworker, man.

And I was told that—they said, you know, they've done a cutout of number 46, the Vice—the Presidency. I'm the 46th President. And I'm thinking, "Well, maybe I can take it home." [Laughter] That's solid steel, man. [Laughter] And you guys did that on your time. Well, thank you very much. I'm not going to try and take it home. [Laughter]

But look, folks, it really is: It's an honor to be here, for real. And I want to thank your soon-to-be new, full-blown, full-bore ironworker. Marty is already trying to get her to Boston, but that's another thing I got to warn you about. [Laughter]

But, folks, look, it's an honor to be here with Vice President Harris and with the Labor Secretary, Marty Walsh, a proud member and former president of the Laborers' Local Union 222—223 up in Boston. And our Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, has got a few things we're going to build.

And I want to thank the Maryland delegation: Ben Cardin, who's been a friend for a long time; and Chris Van Hollen, who's a really close friend; and an outstanding Congressman, Anthony Brown, and other elected officials that are here. Look, all of whom fight for working people, in Maryland and in every—and every other State. Because if it happens here, it happens around the world—happens around the country.

It's been an honor to be with the ironworkers of Local 5. And we talk about building a future that's made in America. We're talking about you. And this time we're going to get it really correct.

You know, one of the press persons said to me—and I can't remember who—about 3 months ago, that—I don't know if it's factual or not, but he said, "You've used the word 'union' as President more than any other President in American history." So let me tell you: I'm not sure that it's true.

Participant. It's true!

The President. But I tell you what: I promised you you'd have a union President. And I am, because you're the best.

You know, we talk about whether Wall Street built America. There are good folks on Wall Street; they're not bad folks. There are good people all over the country. I tell you who built America: the middle class. And the people who built the middle class are organized labor—unions, unions. Unions did it. That's not hyperbole. That's a fact. That's a straight fact.

And the Executive order I'm going to sign today is going to help ensure that we build a better America, we build it right and we build it on time and we build it cheaper than it would have been otherwise.

You know, the Executive order is making sure that Federal construction projects get completed on time and under budget, saving taxpayers money, clearing construction zones quickly, and ensuring that everything the Federal Government signs to contract to build is built to last. You guys really, genuinely, are the best in the world. Not—that's not hyperbole. It's a fact.

To do that, we're using a tool that ironworkers here know very well, called "project labor agreements." I know you all know it, but folks who may be watching this may not fully understand it.

Simply put, these are agreements that contractors, subcontractors, and unions put in place before a construction site gets underway, before the construction begins. They ensure that major projects are handled by well-trained, well-prepared, highly skilled workers, and they ward off problems. They resolve disputes ahead of time, ensuring safer work sites, avoiding disruptions and work stoppages that can cause expensive delays down the line.

And that makes a big difference for the American taxpayer. Because when big construction projects are completed efficiently and with the highest degree of professionalism, it's good for the American taxpayer. That's not hyperbole; that's a fact. We don't talk about it though. We don't talk about how you all save the American taxpayers money.

It's good for families who live in those communities. All across the country, the Federal construction projects are being built as I speak. And it means that modernization of your local waterways will get done sooner, won't cost twice as much as expected. And when the next storm comes, the power will more likely stay on and homes and businesses will be better protected from flooding.

It means new air traffic control towers at the local airports will be up and running more quickly, so flights are safer at the airports and more efficient. It means new housing will be built on our military bases; will be of the highest quality, which these servicemembers deserve. It will hold up better and make life easier for our military families.

The Executive order I'm going to sign will help defuse problems before they arise. They're going to improve coordination between contractors, subcontractors, and workers on the job site. It's going to help guarantee a consistent supply of high-quality, highly trained workers.

You know, what people don't understand if they're not—don't know the industry is, you know, it's like you going to college, kid. Four years. Four years of busting your neck, learning a trade. This isn't something you walk up and show up in a day and raise your hand, "I need a job." You work like the devil for it. Fortunately, you get paid while you're doing it, and you're able to do it, but it is an education—full-blown education you're getting in your trade.

Well, you'll have a voice on the work site, full commitment to getting the job done. And it's going to raise the bar on quality for some of those vital projects we're going to be building. And we're going to make sure that Federal construction projects are staffed with good-paying union jobs.

One of you actually came up to me today and said, "Joe, you said you're going to do that, and you're doing it." Well, when President Obama asked me to run the Recovery Act, I made sure every single job I could get was a union job, prevailing wage. Because I've noticed when folks are getting paid a decent wage, everybody in the community does better, everything looks better.

They're jobs you can raise a family on. Or as my dad would say, "They're jobs you can put your head on the pillow at night and just have a little breathing room"—a little security, a little breathing room. Jobs that can't be outsourced. And that's good for nearly 200,000 workers on Federal construction contracts right now. It's good for everybody.

I don't want to get going because I'll keep you here too long, because you know all of what I'm about to—what I've said, and you know what I've done, and you know what we're doing, and you know what—I know what you're doing.

But let me close with this: A week ago, I went to Pittsburgh to tour a former steel mill that's now a cutting-edge manufacturing research and development hub. Right before I left to the trip, I got word that a bridge collapsed. You saw it on television. It looked as bad in person as it did at the time. The bridge had been rated in poor condition, like, I might add, over 3,000 bridges in Pennsylvania, 45,000 across the Nation. It had been rated that way for the last 10 years.

When I got there, folks told me something close to a miracle had occurred. Because of a snowstorm that morning, school openings were late and commutes were delayed. So when that bridge collapsed—and it was well over a hundred feet off the—two—almost two—I don't—I didn't—I don't know the exact, but probably from down to the creek that it went over and the ravine, probably a couple hundred feet.

When it collapsed, instead of a bus with a couple people on it—being packed with school buses full of children, the people on their way to work on the bridge that is one of the busiest bridges—you know, there are more bridges in Pittsburgh than any other city in the world; with the three rivers—the bridge was empty, relatively empty. Fortunately, no one was killed, but for a snowstorm.

Just imagine the challenges we face and the opportunities to build a better America, and extend it far beyond roads and bridges now that we can—know we have to do. We passed that infrastructure bill. But it's not just that.

Across the country right now there are countless buildings, ports, airports, power stations, and other Federal construction projects that need to be modernized and built for the future. We can't count on miracles, like happened in—out in Pittsburgh, to prevent tragedies that are waiting in plain sight.

But what we can count on, what America has always counted on: the American worker, the hardest working, best trained workers in the world; American workers who, given just half a chance, have never, ever, ever, ever, ever let their country down, and gotten the job done.

And that's what this day is all about, in my view: getting the job done for the American taxpayers, getting the job done right the first time.

You know, folks, there's a law that's existed for a long time that has too many exceptions like this one had, and that is that—buy American.

As President of the United States, I award contracts. And I'm now making it the case—and it's working; it's one of the reasons those jobs were up—is unless the product that I'm purchasing for the American people was made in America and all of its component parts are made in America, we ain't buying it. We're just simply not buying it.

And what's going to happen here—not a joke; it's a fact. It's not a violation of any international laws either. What we're talking about here, with three exceptions I won't bore you with—and they're highly unusual—but with three exceptions: Every single project that we're talking about that's paid for with Federal dollars and is a Federal project, it's going to be union jobs, every single one of them.

The last time we tried it, there were so many exceptions, I think only 19, 20 jobs—[inaudible]. There are going to be thousands, thousands of people put to work. Not a joke. I mean, this is serious.

And guess what? The American public's going to be safer, and it's going to be cheaper—cheaper paying the right wage and the right trained people to begin with and get the job done right and on time.

So I'm about to walk over and sign an Executive order that's going to make that happen. And we're going to start once that order is signed.

Just remember: It ain't labor, it's unions. Thank you.

Now, usually you have a pen to give out to everybody around you, but we didn't have enough pens to bring with us. So I'm going to sign this order, but you're all going to get one of the signing pens, starting with the Maryland delegation. [Laughter]

[At this point, the President signed the Executive order.]

There you go.

Thank you all. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:16 p.m. at an Ironworkers Local 5 hall. In his remarks, he referred to Cranita Jordan, fourth-year apprentice, Ironworkers Local 5, who introduced the President.

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on Signing an Executive Order on the Use of Project Labor Agreements for Federal Construction Projects in Upper Marlboro, Maryland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/354392

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