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Clinton boon for construction unions stalls herman nomination

April 16, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Alexis Herman’s nomination to be labor secretary stalled Wednesday over Republican objections to changes in federal contract guidelines that President Clinton has promised unions.

The White House was consulting with senators about the proposed changes and indicated a willingness to modify the guidelines. But a business group of non-union contractors who spurred the GOP objections and a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott suggested there was little room for compromise.

Clinton, meanwhile, reiterated is promise to union leaders.

``We’re taking steps to ensure that every company that contracts with the government maintains excellent labor relations and employment practices,″ he said in a videotaped address to AFL-CIO construction union officials. ``And soon I’ll issue an executive order that will encourage federal agencies to consider using project labor agreements for any construction contracts they manage.″

Republican lawmakers accused Clinton of trying to circumvent Congress through executive orders. Business group contend such labor agreements will increase costs to taxpayers for government construction projects.

Lott raised the objection Tuesday, putting off a floor vote on Herman scheduled for Wednesday until he received ``clarifications″ about the administration’s plans. On Wednesday a Lott spokeswoman said a clarification of the proposals wouldn’t be enough.

``He would like them to go away,″ said Lott spokeswoman Kirsten Shaw. ``It is unconstitutional. They’re trying to legislate by executive order.″

Charlotte Herbert, vice president of the Associated Builders and Contractors, an organization of non-union construction companies, said Clinton’s proposed changes in procurement rules were unacceptable.

``I don’t think there is a clarification; we don’t think he should be reserving the federal contract market for unions,″ she said.

Several people involved in the wrangling over Herman’s nomination said the objection was brought to Lott by Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla. Herbert said her office had voiced concerns about the proposals to Nickles, Lott and Sen. James Jeffords, R-Vt., chairman of the committee that approved Herman’s nomination.

``This is just a teeny step to help working families, and it’s just a little unbelievable that they’re using this to hold this confirmation hostage,″ said Denise Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO.

Mitchell said the labor federation had been in contact with women’s and minority groups who backed Herman. She said they would revive their public protests if Herman’s nomination were not acted on soon.

A draft executive order regarding labor agreements was circulating through federal agencies when Lott raised his objections.

But White House spokesman Mike McCurry said Wednesday that the order was ``not near final draft form.″

Asked if the White House would drop its promise to labor, McCurry said: ``I don’t think there’s any doubt we will proceed with it. I just think it’s impossible to say at this point what the final shape of the order will be.″

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