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  www.facebook.com/TheTruthAboutPLAs and @TruthAboutPLAs.

62 Responses to Get the Truth

The American Spectator : Closed Shop November 12, 2009 at 12:41 pm

[…] delays through illegal organizing and jurisdictional disputes on jobsites,” according to an analysis posted on the ABC website. “Merit shop workers do not strike, yet they are excluded from working […]

Boston Globe Columnist Trashes Mass Governor’s Gift to Big Labor April 2, 2010 at 9:53 am

[…] Globe column by Scot Lehigh criticizes Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s support of project labor agreements (PLAs) on future construction projects in exchange for political support from construction trade […]

President Obama’s Project Labor Agreement Executive Order Continues Assault on Small Business April 23, 2010 at 7:24 am

[…] an April 14 Wall Street Journal editorial blasts President Obama’s Feb. 6, 2009 pro-project labor agreement (PLA) Executive Order 13502 that was implemented into federal procurement regulations via a final […]

ABC Member Fights Back Against Project Labor Agreement Assault on Small Business May 13, 2010 at 2:03 pm

[…] discussed the problems with the April 13 final rule implementing President Obama’s pro-PLA Executive Order 13502 with David Asman of FOX Business Network’s “America’s Nightly […]

The American Spectator : AmSpecBlog : Employers and Workers Lose Out Under Project Labor Agreements June 2, 2010 at 12:54 pm

[…] project delays through illegal organizing and jurisdictional disputes on jobsites," according to an analysis posted on the ABC website. "Merit shop workers do not strike, yet they are excluded from working on […]

PLA Final Rule Takes Effect Today: Let the Waste, Cronyism and Discrimination Begin February 9, 2011 at 4:29 pm

[…] unemployment.  But it is good news for Big Labor.The schemes are called government-mandated project labor agreements (PLAs) and the Obama administration is encouraging federal agencies to use them on a […]

Dealing with Union Suffocation: Pro-Labor Legislation will Protect Laborers | OpenMarket.org February 18, 2011 at 1:56 pm

[…] agreements (PLAs). PLAs are a complete sop for unions. They insist on using union workers, which increases the cost of construction projects on average by 10 to 20 […]

Ending Project Labor Agreements Vote Determines Congress’s Agenda: Jobs or Cronies? June 13, 2011 at 12:10 pm

[…] normal workforce of non–union members or choose not to bid on the project. Considering only 14.5 percent of construction workers are unionized, there is no other reason for PLAs other than as a sop to Democrats’ key […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute » Another Potential Setback for Fair and Open Bid Competition: Palmdale Water District Will Look at Repealing Project Labor Agreement Ban April 23, 2012 at 11:13 pm

[…] in the City of Palmdale, in Los Angeles County) from requiring its contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) with […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute » San Diego Seeks the Economic Freedom Found in Other States April 25, 2012 at 11:08 am

[…] prohibit those states from entering into contracts that require construction contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions. See the map above, courtesy of […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute » Unions Use Power Over California Legislature to Suppress Local Government Contracting Authority and Push for Project Labor Agreements May 1, 2012 at 2:20 pm

[…] their local governments from entering into contracts that require construction companies to sign Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) with construction trade […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute » It Didn’t Take the First Time: Governor Brown Signs Union Bill #2 to Discourage Voters and City Councils from Banning Project Labor Agreements May 1, 2012 at 2:23 pm

[…] that prohibit those cities from entering into contracts that require construction companies to sign Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) with unions. On April 26, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 829 into law – only a […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » Unions Use Power Over California Legislature to Suppress Local Government Contracting Authority and Push for Project Labor Agreements May 15, 2012 at 12:41 am

[…] their local governments from entering into contracts that require construction companies to sign Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) with construction trade […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » Symbol of Municipal Bankruptcy: Abandoned Mixed-Use Development in California Saddled with a Project Labor Agreement May 15, 2012 at 12:43 am

[…] project in California, assume that the government or the developer required contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement to build […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » Another Potential Setback for Fair and Open Bid Competition: Palmdale Water District Will Look at Repealing Project Labor Agreement Ban May 15, 2012 at 4:17 pm

[…] in the City of Palmdale, in Los Angeles County) from requiring its contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) with […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » Why Have Construction Unions Funded 92 Percent of the Campaign of Placer County Supervisor Candidate Pam Tobin? The Dayton Public Policy Institute Knows! May 26, 2012 at 2:54 am

[…] certainly the silent #1 issue in the race for Placer County Board of Supervisors, 4th District is Project Labor Agreements, also known as […]

Sacramento Labor Boss Spends $1 Million Against Prop A – Utility Ratepayers Pick up the Tab « SD Rostra May 31, 2012 at 1:36 am

[…] ordinance would prohibit the City of San Diego from requiring construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with unions as a condition of working on a taxpayer-funded project. It also contains language […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » Where the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust Spends Its Money: Now We See How Unions Spread It May 31, 2012 at 4:30 am

[…] in ”membership dues” (paid by power plant owners and contractors as a condition of Project Labor Agreements extracted by California Unions for Reliable Energy), and $450,000 in net investment returns. A […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » Is the City of San Diego’s Proposition A (on the June 5, 2012 Ballot) Meaningful and Necessary? Absolutely! Here’s the Documented Proof. June 2, 2012 at 1:47 am

[…] the proposed ordinance is unnecessary because the city has never required contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions for a taxpayer-funded project. Apparently the No on A campaign thinks the illogical […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » Exclusive: Local Government Election Results in California Highly Relevant to Labor Issues June 6, 2012 at 5:16 pm

[…] Open Competition ordinance prohibiting the city from requiring construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement to work on taxpayer-funded construction. I also reported already on the 57% victory in the City of […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » Unions Get Greedy at the Port of Long Beach: $1.1 Billion of Monopoly Work Not Enough June 9, 2012 at 11:35 am

[…] Board of Harbor Commissioners for the Port of Long Beach held a special study session to discuss Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) on specific projects and a proposed Project Labor Agreement that construction contractors would […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » Memo to All Fiscally Responsible City Council Members in California: Background on Charter Cities Establishing Their Own Policies for Government-Mandated Wage Rates for Munic July 6, 2012 at 2:51 pm

[…] Don’t worry about the unions; they have a good deal with their union monopolies through Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) at dozens of local governments – you know, all the fiscally responsible and […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » Barreling Down the Tracks: Project Labor Agreement for California’s High-Speed Rail – the Biggest, Costliest Union Construction Monopoly in History July 7, 2012 at 1:18 am

[…] will be a requirement for the design-build entities and their subcontractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions for some or all of the construction work. I provided extensive background information […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » San Diego Unified School District: the Only Local Government in California Evading Labor Compliance Fees to California Department of Industrial Relations July 26, 2012 at 10:50 pm

[…] labor law compliance activity on these projects because contractors working on them have to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions. (See the special SDUSD “Project Stabilization Agreement” web page here for […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » Union Exploitation of CEQA to Coerce Project Labor Agreements from California Solar Energy Power Plant Developers Will Be EXPOSED at August 6 Kings County Planning Commission August 2, 2012 at 12:37 am

[…] lawyers exploit California’s environmental protection laws to squeeze union-only Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) out of private developers. Not surprisingly, the public reaction is overwhelmingly […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » First Swipe at San Diego Unified School District’s Proposed $2.8 Billion Bond Measure Under a Project Labor Agreement: San Diego Union-Tribune Opinion Piece – A B August 3, 2012 at 6:33 pm

[…] of parents and students will see their construction program compromised by a government-mandated Project Labor Agreement that cuts bid competition and increases costs for the benefit of construction […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » Proposed Village at Squaw Valley Ski Resort – An Opportunity for Californians to See How CEQA Is Used in Practice August 4, 2012 at 2:21 pm

[…] Whatever happens, union officials will probably allign with whichever side serves their own interest of gaining full control of construction for this development with a Project Labor Agreement. […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » Fresno Bee Calls for CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) Reform That Includes Stopping Union “Greenmail” for the Purpose of Coercing Developers to Sign Pr August 6, 2012 at 11:02 am

[…] et seq.) so that unions can’t exploit it to block proposed projects until the owner signs a Project Labor Agreement giving unions monopoly control of the construction […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) Uses CEQA to Target Seven Proposed Solar Farms (Owned by Four Companies) in Fresno County August 9, 2012 at 12:32 am

[…] power generation, although some people speculate that their CURE client is more interested in Project Labor Agreements for these projects. Category: California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Lawsuit Abuse, […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » Feds Need Better Oversight of Labor-Management Cooperation Committees, Such as the Union Slush Fund that Spent $1.1 Million in the June 2012 Election in the City of San Diego September 2, 2012 at 1:11 am

[…] owners of proposed power plants (and their construction contractors) fund it when they sign Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) that require payments to […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Abandons Project Labor Agreement Policy; Instead Directs Staff to Negotiate Project Labor Agreement for Sonoma County Airport Expansion September 19, 2012 at 4:19 am

[…] the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors directed county staff on September 18, 2012 to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with unions and with the input of contractors for the planned $84 million expansion of the […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Abandons Project Labor Agreement Policy; Instead Directs Staff to Negotiate Project Labor Agreement for Sonoma County Airport Expansion September 19, 2012 at 4:41 am

[…] the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors directed county staff on September 18, 2012 to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with unions and with the input of contractors for the planned $54 million expansion of the […]

Concrete Construction Contractors September 20, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Nice post. Very good info.

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » 10,000 Households in Kings County Learn How Unions Are Extorting Solar Power Developers (Such as Recurrent Energy) September 25, 2012 at 5:43 pm

[…] is to coerce developers to hand over monopoly control of the construction to unions through a Project Labor Agreement. The CEQA abuse racket is called “greenmail,” and it is rampant throughout […]

Mailers Expose Union CEQA “Greenmail” Against Solar Developers September 27, 2012 at 1:40 am

[…] is to coerce developers to hand over monopoly control of the construction to unions through a Project Labor Agreement. The CEQA abuse racket is called “greenmail,” and it is rampant throughout […]

Victory: Manchester’s U.S. DOL Job Corps Center To Proceed Free From Project Labor Agreement Scheme October 9, 2012 at 3:01 pm

[…] week the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) confirmed the elimination of a controversial project labor agreement (PLA) mandate on its estimated $20 million to $50 million Job Corps Center in Manchester, N.H., when […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » CEQA Greenmail Still Effective for Unions in San Diego: Just a Cost of Doing Business for Pragmatic Civic Leaders October 11, 2012 at 1:39 am

[…] California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to block proposed projects until the developer signs a Project Labor Agreement for construction and a neutrality agreement leading to a collective bargaining agreement for the […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » Opponents of Project Labor Agreement for San Diego Unified School District Smack $2.8 Million Proposition Z with 50,000 Mailers November 1, 2012 at 7:05 pm

[…] of Education of the San Diego Unified School District requires construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions in order to work on certain projects funded by school district bond sales. Coalition […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » Here Comes Yet ANOTHER Project Labor Agreement on a California Community College District: West Valley-Mission in Silicon Valley November 12, 2012 at 11:00 pm

[…] have succumbed to the union political agenda and require their construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with trade unions as a condition of working on taxpayer-funded […]

Advancing the Union Agenda: A More Mundane Silicon Valley Ambition November 14, 2012 at 1:43 am

[…] succumbed to the union political agenda and now require their construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with trade unions as a condition of working on taxpayer-funded projects. And unions are busy […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » San Diego Union Officials Ignored Global Warming-Related Sea Level Rise in Environmental Settlements for San Diego Convention Center Expansion, Despite Identifying It as Majo November 15, 2012 at 11:28 pm

[…] getting a Project Labor Agreement and other labor concessions as part of a deal to withdraw their environmental complaints about the […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » San Diego Union Officials Ignored Global Warming-Related Sea Level Rise in Environmental Settlements for San Diego Convention Center Expansion, Despite Identifying It as Majo November 15, 2012 at 11:55 pm

[…] getting a Project Labor Agreement and other labor concessions as part of a deal to withdraw their environmental complaints about the […]

Discriminatory union-only construction monopoly exposed on costly California High Speed Rail December 7, 2012 at 1:01 pm

[…] established 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 […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » Board of Emeryville Unified School District Approves Union-Only Community Benefit Agreement for Idealistic Center for Community Life December 21, 2012 at 6:57 pm

[…] Community Benefit Agreements usually include a requirement for developers or contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with construction unions or adopt some other program (often a “First Source Hiring” […]

Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC » The Union Quest for a Project Labor Agreement on a New Sacramento Kings Basketball Arena: Part One – 2006 January 21, 2013 at 11:07 pm

[…] from multiple sources that top construction union officials in Sacramento were anticipating a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) if Sacramento County voters approved a proposed $1.2 billion sales tax increase in the November […]

Why Unionized Contractors Are Opposed To Government-Mandated Project Labor Agreements February 7, 2013 at 2:31 pm

[…] has documented why government-mandated project labor agreements (PLAs) are opposed by some union contractors and union members for a variety of […]

Data Busts Myth that Project Labor Agreements Result in Increased Local Hiring | Washington D.C. Local Me.me March 11, 2013 at 2:21 pm

[…] government officials and taxpayers there is a public benefit to anti-competitive and costly government-mandated project labor agreements (PLAs), which create jobs exclusively for unionized construction workers and steer huge public […]

Data Busts Myth that Project Labor Agreements Result in Increased Local Hiring March 11, 2013 at 3:00 pm

[…] government officials and taxpayers there is a public benefit to anti-competitive and costly government-mandated project labor agreements (PLAs), which create jobs exclusively for unionized construction workers and steer huge public […]

Construction Manager at-Risk Negotiating with Unions for a Project Labor Agreement on $600 Million San Diego County Central Courthouse | Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC May 30, 2013 at 1:10 pm

[…] of the Courts for the State of California (AOC) have been “negotiating” a union-only Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for the new $600+ million Superior Courthouse to be located in downtown San Diego. The AOC has […]

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