Project Labor Agreement Fails at Local Hire on New Bedford Dredging Project

0 October 2, 2013  State & Local Construction

Big Labor bosses and government-mandated project labor agreement (PLA) advocates frequently claim that PLAs are the only way to guarantee local hire on construction projects.

Of course, this is another myth promoted by special interests to convince lawmakers and taxpayers that there is a public benefit to anti-competitive and costly PLA schemes, which funnel lucrative public construction contracts to unionized contractors and jobs to union labor.

Once a PLA has been required by a public or private owner, union bosses, members and contractors steer campaign cash and political support to lawmakers and companies supportive of PLAs in an endless cycle of corruption.

Cycle of GMPLA Corruption 3 has documented examples of PLAs failing at local hire and discriminating against qualified merit shop contractors and their skilled local employees in Manchester, N.H., New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Detroit, Des Moines, Las Vegas, San Diego and San Francisco.

Add New Bedford, Mass., to this diverse list of cities.

An article in SouthCoast Today describes how a PLA and a union have not created enough local jobs on a dredging project in Massachussetts, where just 16.5 percent of the construction workforce is unionized (“Dredging union struggles to provide local workers to South Terminal,” 9/14/13):

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center has been working to employ more local residents on the dredging for the South Terminal Project, but the president of the dredging union said that’s easier said than done.

The Project Labor Agreement for South Terminal sets a goal for 20 percent of workers to be apprentices and for local unions to first hire from the local workforce. Bill White, director of offshore wind sector development for MassCEC, said this is to “provide opportunity for the local workers.”

Currently, the largest union on the South Terminal Project is the Marine Local 25, which does dredging for the project.

As of Sept. 4, there were 38 workers from that union on the project, two of whom were from New Bedford and two others who were SouthCoast residents, according to MassCEC data. That’s a small improvement from July when Local 25 had 34 workers, two of whom were SouthCoast residents and none of whom was from New Bedford. Overall, 11 of the 70 South Terminal workers are from New Bedford, 15 are from the SouthCoast.

White said MassCEC has been working with Local 25 to increase those numbers.

“This has been a concern of the Clean Energy Center with the fact that we are not making progress with this particular union,” he said. “We have made those concerns very clear to that union.”

Local 25 is based in New Jersey and its 1,325 members live across the country and work on projects from Texas to Maine, said President Scott Winter.

That’s not a typo. The union used to ensure local hire in Mass. is from New Jersey.

Here is more proof that PLAs harm local hire from the mouth of Local 25 President Scott Winter:

Winter said he is working to add more locals to the project, but said his union is working at full capacity. All his members are working on projects. The 49 union members from Massachusetts (of which five are New Bedford residents and three are from the SouthCoast), are almost exclusively employed on out-of-state jobs.

Winter said he cannot take Massachusetts workers from out-of-state jobs and bring them back to the Bay State to work on the Terminal.

He said his union is looking to increase its membership across the board, but Winter said the dangerous nature of the work makes qualified people reluctant to do it.

“We send out applications to anyone who calls up interested, but once they find out what they are actually doing, we rarely have anyone return them,” he said.

Local 25 is also making concentrated efforts to increase the number of New Bedford workers on the South Terminal project, but so far that hasn’t worked out so well.

The union reached out to Fairhaven’s Northeast Maritime Institute looking for new members and accepted three graduates. One of them was hired to the South Terminal project but quit this week, Winter said. The other two were sent to projects in New York.

Winter acknowledged it may not make sense to send New Bedford workers elsewhere, but he said the New York project was hiring at the time and the South Terminal was not.

“They could have waited around, or they could have gotten to work,” he said. “We are employing New Bedford people, just not in New Bedford.”

Both White and Winter suggested that Local 25 will have more local workers on the site at the end of October, when controlled underwater blasting is set to begin.

Then, Winter said, he can move some of his men from dredging to blasting, and replace them with less-experienced workers. Some of those workers could be “borrowed” from the Local 4 union of operating engineers.

Those union members have similar qualifications as Local 25 workers, but would be less experienced at the dredging operations. But, Winter said, he could use them as “deckhands.”

“The trouble is this isn’t your average construction job,” he said. “You can’t just say, ‘Well give me a couple of bodies off the street and we’ll take them to the blasting vessel.’ They may have a good work ethic, but they wouldn’t be able to do the work.”

So by dispatching Mass. union members known as travelers or boomers to other union jobsites acorss the country, Local 25 is harming local hiring efforts abroad and in New Bedford? And Local 25’s solution is to bring in less-experienced union workers to do the job, possibly decreasing the productivity and quality of the work?

Why not ditch the PLA and open the labor pool to skilled nonunion workers and qualified contractors from the local economy?

It’s worth noting the United State Army Corps of Engineers issued a survey in April to determine if a PLA was appropriate for a federal large-scale dredging project in the region.

With broken local hire promises like this, is it surprising PLAs remain controversial special interest schemes?

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