White House Poised to Issue Pro-Union Edicts: GOP Calls It Payback to AFL-CIO

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President Clinton is preparing executive measures that would bar companies from winning federal contracts unless they have "satisfactory labor relations" and force increased unionization of federal projects, draft documents say.

The draft regulations and executive order, which are likely to be challenged by businesses in court and by Republicans in Congress, could have a sweeping impact on the one-fifth of all workers and thousands of companies that provide the government with $200 billion in services each year.

Republicans say the measures are a payback to the AFL-CIO for the millions it spent on Mr. Clinton's re-election last year, and also are aimed at aiding the presidential aspirations of Vice President Al Gore.

Meanwhile, three Clinton administration officials have recommended that Texas be allowed to privatize parts of its welfare program, a move opposed by the AFL-CIO and government employee unions.

Mr. Gore first disclosed that the new rules for federal contracts were coming in a closed session with the AFL-CIO executive council in February.

"This White House will take action to give the right to organize new teeth," Mr. Gore said after the meeting. "If you want to do business with the federal government, you had better maintain a safe workplace and respect civil, human and, yes, union rights."

An executive order due to be published on Monday would push federal managers into awarding lucrative construction projects to unionized firms by requiring them to determine whether the presence of a labor agreement would "promote labor-management stability" and compliance with worker safety and opportunity laws, according to a draft copy of the executive order.

Businesses and GOP critics say the order is a back-door way to force unionization of construction projects, most of which are not now unionized, because managers almost certainly will find that contractors with unions more readily meet the pro-labor requirements.

"This is essentially a set-aside of all federal construction projects for unionized companies," said a top GOP aide. He added that the executive order is so cleverly written that he does not expect it to be easily knocked down by the courts like the administration's "striker replacement" order was last year.

"If you want to set foot on a federal project, you'll have to belong to a union" under this order, said Jennifer Boucher of the Associated Builders and Contractors.

Bruce Josten of the Chamber of Commerce said the order undermines competitive-bidding laws, which "ensure that federal contracts go to those who do the best work at the best price." He said a lawsuit by the Chamber group that successfully challenged the striker-replacement executive order is likely. …