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Administrator Carnahan's Remarks as Prepared for North America's Building Trades Unions in Washington DC

April 26, 2023

Thank you President McGarvey, it’s great to be here with you and so many friends from the labor movement.  Before joining the Biden Administration, I had the honor of serving on the Board of ULLICO – the labor-owned insurance and investment company – that’s been looking out for American workers and their families for 95 years.

It’s a remarkable success story of the labor movement’s single-minded focus on protecting union members and their families and making sure that the workers who build projects share in the benefits of owning a piece of those projects when they’re finished. So, it’s wonderful to be back with you.

Now, I suspect that a few of you may be wondering why, along with all the important elected leaders speaking to you this week, you’re hearing from the Administrator of the General Services Administration. What does GSA have to do with building trades and supporting working families?

It turns out, quite a lot. You see, GSA owns and manages the largest building portfolio in the country, the largest fleet of vehicles, and, along with the Department of Defense, is the largest buyer of power in the country. We also buy more than $80 billion dollars worth of goods and services every year on behalf of the United States government.

So, it really is GSA’s job to help the Biden-Harris Administration deliver on its promise to Invest in America. We’re rebuilding our economy, as the President says, “from the bottom up and the middle out” and to create more good-paying, union jobs in the process.

But, the only way we succeed in meeting the President’s ambition of rebuilding America’s middle class is by partnering with the folks in this room and the members you represent.

GSA’s role in this is to ensure the government leads by example by showing what's possible. 

Last week, I was in Cleveland and stopped by IBEW Local 38’s Joint Apprenticeship and Training Center.  (Kenny Cooper, I know you and President McGarvey, know that place well.)

Two young women apprentices showed me how to install a 3-way light circuit – safely, I might add.

A few minutes later, two young men showed me how to wire an electric vehicle charging station - and talked about how every apprentice is being trained not only on how to install EV infrastructure, but also on how to integrate solar technologies into the grid.

It struck me in just those few minutes that I was witnessing how once again organized labor is leading the way in transforming our country and our economy.

Just as unions led the way in fighting for a forty hour work week, workplace safety standards, living wages, and equity and fairness in the workplace… we’re once again looking to organized labor to help meet this moment in our nation’s history.  

That’s exactly what you’re doing at Local 38 and in cities and other locals around the country. In fact, GSA has already put Journeymen and Apprentices from Local 38 to work on a $48 million project, renovating space for the Veterans Benefits Administration in downtown Cleveland.

That’s a perfect example of what investing in America looks like: hardworking men and women delivering on a project for those who have served and sacrificed for our country - and, thanks to a PLA, getting paid the fair wages and benefits they deserve. And we intend to do more of that.

That’s just one example of the type of investments we’re making all over the country. And none of this work gets done without the skilled workforce and qualified contractors that we count on to deliver quality and value for American taxpayers everyday.

So, today I want to talk about real contracts and real jobs for the building trades represented in this room.  After all…

YOUR union brothers and sisters are THE ONES who will help deliver projects safely and efficiently - on time and on budget.

YOU’RE THE ONES who do the work…everything from restoring century-old historic structures… to building high-tech labs loaded with cutting-edge innovation. 

AND - RIGHT NOW - YOU’RE THE ONES to ensure these once-in-a-generation Investments in America create more opportunities for all our people.

I know that we can depend on the building trades to be good partners and deliver. I’ve seen your work and met your members on job-sites and at training centers across the country…as I’ve talked with Pipefitters in St. Louis, Ironworkers in Toledo, Laborers and Sheet Metal workers in Boston, and pavers in Arizona.

And there are many more contracting opportunities and good jobs on the horizon…

  • In New England, GSA will need pipefitters, electricians and HVAC technicians to install energy efficient heat pumps and boilers at 10 locations.
  • In Texas, New Mexico, and Washington state, we’ll need concrete masons and asphalt workers for new roadways and parking lots at over 15 border crossings. 
  • And in Arizona and California, we’ll need electricians and solar panel technicians to install thousands of solar panels at facilities along the southern border.

Many of the jobs will be funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, so I have a question: How many of you are from a state that borders Canada or Mexico?

Y’all should know that we’re investing $3.4 billion in dozens of border crossing stations to make them more secure and efficient. That’s about 6,000 jobs.

We’re investing another $3.4 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act in clean construction materials, emerging and sustainable technologies, and other high-performance building upgrades. That’s roughly another 9,500 jobs and about $2.8 billion in labor income.

And we’re not stopping there. For the first time ever, President Biden as part of his budget called on Congress to give GSA access to the funding we need to maintain and renovate our buildings over the long-term - which means even more jobs for workers in communities across the country.

So, with nearly $7 billion dollars to invest, GSA is on the front lines of Investing in America and working to meet the President’s ambitious goals of transitioning our country into a clean energy economy. The urgency of this moment couldn’t be greater for our security, our economy, and our future.

And let’s be clear, as we make these investments, we’re laser focused on implementing the President’s Executive Order to expand the use of Project Labor Agreements on federal construction projects.

At GSA, we already have preferences for PLAs on projects over $25 million dollars. We want to work with you to do even more to expand their use. Because PLAs represent a WIN-WIN…they’re smart investments for us because they ensure our federal projects benefit from a well-trained workforce that helps deliver  the high-quality facilities we expect – on-time and on-budget – and they’re a WIN for workers by ensuring they’re paid fair wages and benefit from safe and fair working conditions.

But we can’t stop there. We know that y’all need to have a clearer picture of what work we have in the pipeline. That’s why we’re planning to make it easier to track acquisition opportunities and timeframes on our website - so you can better understand who and what we need for upcoming projects.

We understand that the more visibility we can give you TODAY about upcoming projects, the better prepared you’ll be to recruit and train the workforce we’ll need for those jobs TOMORROW. 

This is especially important when it comes to big projects over $35 million - what we and the Department of Labor call MEGAPROJECTS. For those projects, we’re eager to build out even better forecasting tools and opportunities for engagement with all of you as well as small businesses and community job training centers. And you should also know that we’ll be evaluating contractors' practices when it comes to anti-discrimination and equal opportunity.

After all, building a stronger America starts with investing in the people who actually build it - and the building trades community gets that.

In fact, I was at the White House a few weeks ago with Presidents McGarvey and Shuler. We talked about the challenge of labor shortages and how to begin to fill those skills gaps, especially when it comes to recruiting and retaining more women, veterans, and people of color into the building trades.

I want to thank President McGarvey for taking the lead on tackling this challenge and looking for new ways to make construction jobs more accessible. I know you’re partnering with DOL on their Good Jobs Initiative, you're rolling out Women in Construction programs, you’re piloting on-site childcare, and you're working closely with the National Urban League and others to enroll 13,000 new apprentices and place them in good-paying, union jobs.

We all know that to build the American economy of the future, we need the time and talent of all our people...we  can’t leave anyone behind – and, when we Invest in America, we mean all of America.

President Biden often reminds us that the United States is made up of possibilities and that nothing is beyond our capacity if we remember who we are and we work together.

When I look across this room and visit job-sites across the country, I see a bright future, a future where organized labor is stepping up once again to lead…to shape our country…to create a stronger America…to open the doors of opportunity and possibility for good-paying jobs and pathways to the middle class for millions of families in every community across this land.

Thank you. Thank you for your tireless commitment to improving the lives of working families.

Thank you for being our partners at this unique moment. Let’s make the most of it. Let’s get to work.