The president of a group of national construction unions vowed to fight an executive order issued by President Bush in February.

According to Edward C. Sullivan, president of the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, the order effectively bars the use of project labor agreements on federally assisted construction jobs. He said PLAs have been used on hundreds of high-profile projects in both the private and public sectors for more than 50 years.

In 1993, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the use of PLAs on public projects in a case involving the cleanup of Boston Harbor.

The unions content the executive order violates long-standing federal law protecting workers' rights.

Sullivan said the unions would file a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the court to overturn a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. In a decision late last year, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia agreed with the unions' position but was reversed by the D.C. Circuit.

"We are taking this case to the highest court in the land because we will not stand by and watch the National Labor Relations Act, which gives rights to both workers and employers, be disassembled by executive order," said Sullivan.

"It is a misuse of presidential power to restrict the use of federal funds allocated by the Congress, with total disregard for the impact such restrictions will have on labor laws that have stood for over six decades," he said.

In the original lawsuit challenging the executive order, the unions were joined by the city of Richmond, Calif. The states of California, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts, and the Sierra Club, the New York State Thruway Authority, and several national contractors' associations also filed briefs supporting the unions' position.

The Building and Construction Trades Department is an umbrella labor organization representing 14 national and international unions whose combined 3 million members are employed in the construction industry.

But According to Ken Adams, national chairman of Associated Builders and Contractors, union-only project labor agreements discriminate against the majority of the construction workforce.

"PLAs require contractors to follow restrictive union work rules and hire workers out of a union hiring hall or require workers to join a union," Adams said. "PLAs also limit competition and consequently increase the price tag on projects since merit construction contractors typically do not like to bid on projects with PLAs."

According to Adams, "It does not seem fair to siphon off a major portion of the construction work in this country for what is essentially the minority of the workforce. The majority of the construction workforce consists of workers who choose not to join a union. Artificially setting aside large projects for a relatively small percentage of contractors flies in the face of this nation's free enterprise system. Rather, projects bid under open competition ensure that a wide range of contractors bid on the jobs, resulting in savings that are ultimately passed on to taxpayers."

ABC officials said they were pleased that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned the lower court and upheld the president's executive order.

"We are hopeful that the ruling stands and President Bush's executive order holds," Adams said.