Rep. Andy Harris has introduced legislation to end the favored treatment union contractors receive on construction projects paid for by the federal government.

The proposal, which in the past has been strongly supported by construction trade groups but opposed by labor, is a response to an executive order President Barack Obama signed early in his first term that required agencies to consider using project-labor agreements to set wages and site rules on federal construction projects.

Harris, a Cockeysville Republican, called his measure "pro-growth, pro-taxpayer, and pro-worker choice legislation that will lower government costs by increasing the competitiveness of federal contracts."

The Senate version is backed by David Vitter, and is identical to legislation the Louisiana Republican has sponsored in the past. That bill has zero chance of advancing in the Democratic-controlled Senate but is likely to fire up core conservatives and liberals — as well as contractors — who have debated the issue for years at the state and federal levels.

Trade groups argue that the labor agreements typically set rules that favor hiring union workers, which they say drives up the costs of projects and dissuades non-union contractors from applying for federal work. Labor groups counter that the agreements level the playing field for union contractors by ensuring that workers receive fair wages and benefits.

Obama's 2009 executive order was the latest in a series of orders presidents have signed regarding the labor agreements. A similar order signed by President Bill Clinton in 1997 was revoked by President George W. Bush in 2001 with an order that prohibited the agreements on federal projects.

john.fritze@baltsun.com