Understanding PLAs in Right to Work States

3 July 20, 2009  Federal Construction, State & Local Construction

There is great confusion in the construction community about the legality of PLAs in right to work states. The media, public, elected officials and construction professionals would benefit from understanding the small but significant difference between PLAs in right to work states and PLAs in non-right to work states.PLAs can occur in right to work states, though they are less common. The Southern Nevada Metropolitan Water District project and the Iowa Events Center project are perhaps the most prominent examples of government-mandated PLAs in right to work state.

A right to work state is simply a state which has passed a law prohibiting employees from being forced to pay dues to any labor organization. Such laws are specifically authorized by Section 14 of the National Labor Relations Act and 22 states have passed such laws. (Note: Indiana and Michigan passed RTW since this blog post was published in 2009. The map below has been updated to included all 24 RTW states).

NRTW Map

NRTW Map as of July 2013,
courtesy of http://www.nrtw.org/rtws.htm

A right to work law does not outlaw unions, and it does not outlaw collective bargaining agreements. There are many unionized employers operating in right to work states. Although the right to work law prevents unionized employers from forcing their employees to pay dues to the union, employees of a union contractor in both right to work and non-right to work states are still required to work under terms and conditions exclusively negotiated by unions under PLAs.

Under such conditions, a union-favoring PLA mandate has not been held to violate state right to work laws, so long as the contract does not require anyone to join a union or pay full union dues.  (However, some court challenges have held that employees in right to work states may be required to pay representational fees to unions, sometimes called agency shop fees, but not full dues.) The PLA contract can still comply with law and require employees to work under a union contract. That is why we refer to PLAs as “union-only” in most instances; not because anyone has to pay dues or “join” the union, although that mandate is often the case in non-right to work states.

In non-right to work states, union-only PLA agreements can go further in that they can require employees not only to work under a union contract but also can require those employees to pay full union dues to a labor union while working on the project.  Construction unions benefit from nonunion workers that are forced to pay union dues in order to work on a construction jobsite subject to a PLA. This arrangement is obviously more onerous and coercive than in a right to work state, but in both cases, the PLA has the practical impact of being  “union-only,” because employees are forced to work under union terms and conditions of employment.

A lesson to be learned from this brief explanation about PLAs and right to work laws is that if you are a contractor and conduct business in a right to work state, you should still be concerned about government-mandated PLAs.  If written correctly, they will not violate state law. You will likely see more of them due to the changing political environment in Washington, D.C., and around the states as the political influence of Big Labor grows.

Likewise, you should be concerned that President Obama’s Executive Order 13502 will result in an increase in government-mandated PLAs on federal and federally funded construction projects in right to work states where PLAs are scarce.

Since right to work states typically have a low density of union construction workers (see data from www.unionstats.com), PLAs could lead to out of state union contractors and their union employees taking work away from your company and your local employees unless you agree to be bound the inefficient and costly terms and conditions in a PLA (like paying into union pension plans, following union hiring procedures and following inefficient union work rules).

So don’t stick your head in the sand and pretend that PLAs aren’t a problem and you are protected by state right to work laws. It is time to be proactive and get politically engaged because PLAs will limit free and open competition for construction contracts in your market and are guaranteed to impact your company’s bottom line.

Communicate your opposition to union-only PLAs to elected officials on ABC’s grassroots website and participate in the regulatoy process for Executive Order 13502 here.

You can learn more about right to work laws here.

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3 Responses to Understanding PLAs in Right to Work States

BenBrubeck July 20, 2009 at 12:58 pm

I received the below email from a contractor who operates in a Right to Work state in response to recent PLA developments. It demonstrates how inefficient union work rules inherent in PLAs increase construction costs.

“PLAs as well as Davis-Bacon prevailing wages require that all trades abide by each trade union’s jurisdicitonal requirements established in the 1930’s. As with any other business, the construction industry has changed since this time period. We no longer train personnel in just one trade, we cross train them to perform many tasks so we can keep them as employees for the duration of the project.

Our employees perform general labor, carpentry work, cement finishing, iron work (rebar and miscellaneous steel), and operate small equipment such as bobcats and lulls. If they perform different types of work in one day, which is normal, we are required to report their hours worked in each established trade, and pay them differently for each task or pay them at the highest rate for the entire day, which is ridiculous and a waste of time, resources and money.”

Joe Pubowobitz March 8, 2010 at 11:44 am

I’ve never had a problem with paying an employee a fair wage or even some of the benefits. The problem with some of the benefits is that the unions make more off of the top the benefit than the companies providing the health insurance, for example.Why? Because They Can. Other problems include: 1. The union telling employers who they can hire and not hire. 2. Sending workers to the job site an hour late and still expecting employers to pay a full 8 hours wage and benefits. 3. The unions sending “stewards” to the job site to interfere with, slow down, and–in some instances–stop work progress because they think some employee is operating the wrong machine. 4. Union employees tearing up equipment costing hundreds of thousands of $ and then just walking away with absolutely no responsibility for their neglect and belligerence. 5. Being required to get permission from some union local in order to be “allowed” to do business with the customer who hires you–even though you are paying your workers union wages. Is this a free country or what? 6. Locals of the same union having different rules to abide by–in other words:absolutely no continuity among locals. 7. If a contractor is paying employees union scale, what right, if any, do unions have to tell that contractor how to run his business? Are these above problems what causes right to work states, and, if so, why don’t right to work laws stop this CRAP ? These obstacles, and other government imposed rules, and regulations are bringing our country down at a time when we need to be all about removing obstacles to economic growth. I don’t get it.

Don Coppinger Jr. May 25, 2010 at 8:18 pm

As a union employee, in what you may call a pro-union state, I went through a four year apprenticeship program that also included college courses to obtain a degree. Not only did I find this level of training a must for many that want to break into construction trades, I also view that opportunity as a great experience in getting additional training that I have yet to use, or might never use on the job. My point to that is, even though I spent my precious time and and endured tasks that I wasn’t sure were relevant, I couldn’t possibly appreciate that time in my education any more. It has enabled me to be a very skilled person. As for the right-to-work states, I fully understand the opposition and the reasons behind it. However, I have attempted to relocate to right to work states in the past. While searching for employment opportunities I have found that not only do the non-union jobs pay less, ( usually 20% or more less ) and the ones that choose to still remain in unions in these stays end up being the ones discriminated against. Furthermore, if someone wants to relocate yet really loves what they do, shouldn’t they have the RIGHT TO WORK for union wages and not be shun from performing labor or any job for that matter?

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