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My Stance on Project Labor Agreements (PLAs)

Given the headline story in today's Herald about Union gouging and extravagance, I decided to kick off my issues-related newsletter series on a closely associated topic: Project Labor Agreements.

Bit of background on the current situation: On Beacon Hill, the Patrick administration has imposed so-called Project Labor Agreements on three large construction projects that require that anyone working on them must be members of a labor union and firms must abide by union work rules. Non-union shops say those requirements effectively exclude them from bidding. Several studies show that projects done under PLAs or with only a small number of bidders cost more than projects that have more bidders. Unions, however, say the PLAs insure higher-quality work and offer a guarantee against strikes or other labor strife. 


I believe that PLAs inexcusably discriminate against nonunion contractors and workers while increasing construction costs that inevitably get passed on to taxpayers. Under the National Labor Relations Act, construction contractors and employees have the right to choose to unionize or not to unionize. The vast majority of contractors and their employees - more than 80 percent nationwide - have voluntarily opted against unionization. Because most contractors and employees choose to refrain from unionization when they have the free choice, Big Labor has turned to politicians like Gov. Patrick and Sen. Donnelly to remove that choice and impose union representation on employees from the top down. And that is exactly what a project labor agreement, or PLA is.  

Experts like David Tuerck, executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute (BHI), a public policy research center at Suffolk University in Boston, say the PLAs have one purpose: to discourage nonunion contractors from bidding on big construction projects- and I agree with this statement. With almost 85 percent of construction workers here in Massachusetts nonunion, there is a clear bias towards awarding contracts to the union minority. BHI studies have shown that taxpayers here in Massachusetts have suffered as a result of this union bias, and the PLAs actually raised project costs 12-20%. 

This country was founded on the premise that competition in business is a good thing- it leads to lower prices, sustained quality, and choice of products and services. I believe that PLAs are in the best interests of Big Labor, and not the taxpayers of Massachusetts.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

mary vogel October 27, 2012 at 12:21 PM
There is a plethora of robust scholarly academic research refuting the claim that PLAs raise costs and indeed, showing that PLAs can serve as effective project management tools. Yet, the media and non-union advocates continue to rely on discredited studies by the partisan Beacon Hill Institute in support of their contrary position. Moreover, a 2010 Cornell University study shows that Building Trades unions in the Commonwealth represent more than 60% of the construction workforce, directly contradicting the non-union sector’s claim that they constitute a majority of the construction industry in the state. The truth is that PLAs put qualified skilled people to work with family sustaining wages which lessens the strain that low-wage workers place on our public safety net, while also providing those workers with more disposable income. PLAs ultimately benefit our local small business owners and create pathways for local citizens to gain comprehensive career training in the skilled trades, which can ultimately lead to those citizens creating and owning their own businesses. Mary Vogel, The Construction Institute
Mike Henderson October 27, 2012 at 01:07 PM
There does not exists, a more empty and meaningless argument than 'there are a number of studies that show blah, blah..." You don't need a study to prove that when you institute a public policy that excludes 85 percent of the competition, price will go up. The private sector gets along fine without PLA's and you better believe the private developer has a greater vested interest in getting more bang for his buck, then say, a public official who is spending tax payer money? PLA's exist for one reason and one reason only: unions got lots of PAC dollars and they hold sway with the democratic party. Case closed.
Frank Callahan October 31, 2012 at 02:57 PM
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts decided to use PLA's on certain projects only after a thorough review on a project by project basis. In each case they deemed them to be a value added proposition. Lets forget the dueling studies for a moment and look at the record. The Taunton Courthouse was competed under a PLA - $6 million under budget and ahead of schedule. The Award winning Worcester Courthouse was also built on time and on budget under a PLA. Finally, the same folks who deride state goverment and repeatedly urge them to act more like the private sector should applaud Governor Patrick. Billions of dollars of private sector projects have been completed and are under way in Mass. and across the country under Project Labor Agreements. Why? Because they work. PLAs are a time tested tool to deliver quality projects, on-time and on-budget. Frank Callahan Massachusetts Building Trades Council
x October 31, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Union hacks representing the status quo are quick to jump in defense of PLA's, see above. Fact is the old, heavily unionized states are losing jobs and congressional representation to more advanced right-to-work states. An enlightened populace will elect a governor like Scott Walker to tackle the seepage of these practices into the government sector. Massachusetts does not have the will, as too many here are dependent and Democrat. Reverend E. Raleigh Pimperton III

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