Get the Truth

Anti-competitive government-mandated project labor agreements (PLAs) are special interest kickback schemes that end open, fair and competitive bidding on taxpayer-funded construction projects.

PLAs discourage or eliminate merit shop contractors from competing for and winning contracts for construction projects. Construction contracts subject to PLAs are almost always awarded exclusively to unionized contractors and their all-union workforces.  Less competition and archaic and inefficient union rules increase the cost of construction projects subject to PLAs.

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 13.9 percent of the 2016 U.S. private construction workforce belonged to a union. This means PLAs discriminate against more than eight out of 10 construction workers who would work on construction projects if not for a PLA.

The following provisions typically discourage merit shop contractors from working on PLA projects.

  • PLAs require merit shop companies to obtain their workers from union hiring halls. This means a merit shop company must exclusively use unfamiliar union workers on specific jobsites instead of their own skilled and experienced employees. In rare instances, merit shop employers can use a limited number of their own employees, but employers must send their nonunion employees to the union hiring hall and hope the union sends the same employees back to that specific PLA jobsite.
  • Nonunion employees may have to pay union dues and fees or join a union in order to work on a PLA project, even if they are in a Right-to-Work state.
  • Despite the fact contractors have their own benefits plans, PLAs require merit shop contractors to pay their workers’ health and retirement benefits to union benefit and pension funds. Thus, companies have to pay benefits twice: once to the union and once to the company plan. Nonunion employees never see any of the benefits from contributions sent to union plans unless they decide to join a union and remain with the union until vested.
  • Paying into underfunded and mismanaged union pension plans can expose merit shop contractors to significant pension withdrawal liabilities.  Signing a PLA and exposing a company to pension liabilities could bankrupt a contractor or prohibit contractors from qualifying for construction bonds needed to build future projects.
  • PLAs require merit shop companies to obtain apprentices exclusively from union apprenticeship programs. Participants in federal and state-approved nonunion apprenticeship programs cannot work on a job covered by a PLA. This means craft professionals enrolled in apprenticeship programs other than those offered by a union are excluded from work in their hometowns.
  • PLAs for contractors to follow inefficient and archaic work rules defined in the agreement or related collective bargaining agreements for each trade on the jobsite.

Learn more about the provisions in typical PLAs and how they harm nonunion contractors and employees at “Understanding Core Workforce Provisions in Project Labor Agreements” (4/7/14) and “Project Labor Agreement Basics: What Is a PLA?” (4/24/09).

PLAs drive up the cost of construction projects. By unnecessarily limiting bidders and following outdated and inefficient union work rules, PLAs consistently and unnecessarily drive up costs on projects. Analysis of numerous academic studies of public construction projects subject to prevailing wage laws indicate PLAs increase the cost of construction between 12 percent and 18 percent when compared to similar projects not subject to union-only PLAs.

PLAs discriminate against merit shop contractors and disadvantaged businesses. This discrimination is particularly harmful to women- and minority-owned construction businesses—whose workers traditionally have been under-represented in unions, mainly due to artificial and societal barriers in union membership and union apprenticeship and training programs. Get the facts about the impact of union-favoring PLAs on women- and minority-owned construction businesses and workers here and here.

PLAs harm local workers. Proponents claim PLAs ensure the use of local workers, but the truth is PLAs fail at local job creation (learn more here). PLA supporters fail to mention the term “local workers” excludes local nonunion, women, minority and veteran workers. This rhetoric is particularly misleading because only 13.9 percent of U.S. construction workers belong to a union. In construction markets where the demand for union labor is greater than the supply, union workers from outside the local area are given preference over qualified local nonunion workers on PLA projects. These union workers are called travelers or boomers, and they take jobs away from local qualified nonunion craft employees. Here is anecdotal evidence that PLAs don’t result in better local hire outcomes.

PLAs take away employee’s rights. Employees normally are permitted to choose whether to join a union through a card check process or a federally supervised private ballot election. PLAs require unions to be the exclusive bargaining representative for workers during the life of the project. The decision to elect union representation is made by the employer —when agreeing to participate in a PLA—rather than the employees. PLAs are called pre-hire agreements because they can be negotiated before the contractor hires any employees or employees vote on union representation. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) generally prohibits pre-hire agreements, but an exception in the law allows for these agreements only in the construction industry. In short, government-mandated PLAs strip away the right of construction workers to a federally supervised private-ballot election or a card check election when deciding whether to unionize their workplace. Learn how PLAs function in Right to Work states here.

PLAs are not necessary to, and are not successful at, ensuring labor peace or keeping a project safe, on time, on budget, or in compliance with labor laws. Unions leverage the threat of labor strikes and unrest to compel construction users to require PLAs on construction projects. This is a particularly disingenuous argument that flirts with blackmail because unions cause many project delays through illegal organizing and jurisdictional disputes. In addition, unions have struck on PLA projects, calling into question the value of the agreements. In contrast, merit shop workers do not strike, yet they are typically discouraged from working on PLA projects.

As documented in the following linked blog posts, government-mandated PLAs do not guarantee a safe jobsite, nor do PLA mandates ensure compliance with labor laws. Some courts have found PLA mandates violate state and federal competitive bidding laws. In fact, some unions and unionized contractors oppose PLA mandates.

A report by ABC general counsel Maury Baskin, Government-Mandated Project Labor Agreements: The Public Record of Poor Performance (2011 Edition), documents the numerous broken promises and mishaps on government-mandated PLA construction projects, such as the infamous Big Dig in Boston.

Additional research and studies on the cost and negative impact of government-mandated PLAs is available here.

To learn more about PLAs, contact Ben Brubeck at Associated Builders and Contractors or visit and @TruthAboutPLAs.

62 Responses to Get the Truth

South Carolina Becomes 17th State to Ban Government-Mandated Project Labor Agreements on Taxpayer Funded Projects | June 11, 2013 at 1:37 pm

[…] law, which will prohibit government entities in the state from requiring contractors to sign a project labor agreement (PLA) or other agreements with labor unions as a condition of performing work on public […]

NYC Carpenters Union Breaks Project Labor Agreement’s No-Strike Promise at 4 WTC Jobsite | July 2, 2013 at 2:35 pm

[…] According to a press release by the New York City District Council Carpenters Union, hundreds of carpenters union members went on strike Monday—affecting major construction projects around New York City and New Jersey, including some covered by project labor agreements (PLAs). […]

Union’s Criticism Misses Mark on U.S. Department of Labor’s New Hampshire Job Corps Center Project Labor Agreement Scheme | September 4, 2013 at 9:37 am

[…] shop contracting community for their opposition to an anti-competitive and costly union-favoring government-mandated project labor agreement (PLA) on the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Manchester, N.H., Job Corps […]

Construction Fatalities and Protest by Minority Contracting Community Plague New 49ers Stadium Project | October 16, 2013 at 9:56 am

[…] Francisco 49ers’ $1.2 billion Levi’s stadium, subject to a controversial government-mandated project labor agreement (PLA), has been plagued by two fatal jobsite accidents and a protest by a coalition […]

Mark Corbin March 14, 2014 at 1:31 pm

I am Mark Corbin Director of the Small Business Enterprise (SBE) program and I would like to come and share information regarding our program and how we can assist minority contractors.
My contact information is as follows:

Mark Corbin, Director
Small Business Enterprise Supportive Services Center
Cheyney University of Pennsylvania
1837 University Circle
P.O. Box 200
Cheyney, Pennsylvania 19319-0200
610-399-2178 (o)
610-399-2118 (f)
855-PASBE4U (727-2348)
Twitter: @SBESSCPA

wayne travis March 24, 2014 at 2:29 pm


Fixing the Transportation Trust Fund Requires Getting Priorities in Order | The Save Jersey Blog August 18, 2014 at 10:55 am

[…] to maintain roads of any state in the country. A terrific resource on project labor agreements—— explains that the vast majority (more than 85%) of the private construction workforce belong to […]

5 alternatives to a massive gas tax hike – The Save Jersey Blog November 10, 2014 at 9:31 am

[…] to maintain roads of any state in the country. A terrific resource on project labor agreements—— explains that the vast majority (more than 85%) of the private construction workforce belong to […]

How Project Labor Agreements Elevate Costs to Taxpayers | Union Watch November 17, 2015 at 6:41 pm

[…] Get the Truth, The Truth About PLAs […]

Patrick Meisner May 25, 2016 at 10:49 pm

The main reason costs are “elevated” is because the workers on the PLA jobs receive actual wages and benefits with which they can support their families and actually put some of that wage back into the community which is good for the economy. The idea that a PLA in is bad is one of the biggest jokes I have ever heard. The only ones against PLAs are those that have no concern for the health and welfare of the working class

Ben Brubeck July 11, 2016 at 8:17 am

Projects subject to government-mandated PLAs are typically subject to federal Davis-Bacon laws or state and local prevailing wage laws, which require payment of locally “prevailing” wage rates and fringe benefits to employees of contractors and subcontractors performing work on qualifying construction projects. On projects subject to the federal Davis-Bacon Act, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage & Hour Division (WHD) is responsible for conducting surveys to establish the wage rates applicable to such projects. The rates required are typically the union collectively bargained wage and benefit rate, although sometimes a few trades are determined through a blended rate of market and union rates. States and localities either use the WHD rate or calculate their own rates via a state agency. In short, the wage and benefit rates are able to support families with or without a PLA mandate. The added costs because of PLA mandates are frequently due to a lack of competition, inefficient union work rules and delays and complications during the procurement process. You can’t cut competition from the majority of the construction industry and expect it to have no impact on price or quality.

Unions Creep Closer to Monopolizing California High-Speed Rail Construction | NEW CAL POLICY December 9, 2016 at 3:31 pm

[…] this policy to provide a strong incentive for construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions for construction of the $68 billion-$100 billion rail system, including related […]

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