Fox in the Hen House

0 May 19, 2009  State & Local Construction, Uncategorized

In March, the Pennsylvania Department of General Services (DGS) announced the construction of two future prisons, costing approximately $400 million.  The projects’ general contractor hired Keystone Research Center (KRC) to research the feasibility of a PLA on the projects – despite numerous existing studies that already prove that union-only PLAs are wasteful and discriminatory.

Luckily, there are reporters in Pennsylvania that get it.  Here are some excerpts from The Bulletin’s Bradley Vasoli reporting of the KRC Deal (the bold text is ours):

Who is KRC?

A majority of KRC’s 20 board members work for labor unions. Those members include Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rick Bloomingdale, United Steelworkers principal Ike Gittlen and Pennsylvania State Building & Construction Trades Council President Frank Sirianni. At least 5 percent of KRC’s funding comes from organized labor.

What kind of data do they produce?

KRC frequently produces policy studies that capture the attention of state officials. Last month, it partnered with the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research to release an analysis titled “Unions and Upward Mobility for Service-Sector Workers,” which cheers unionization as upping service workers’ pay and benefits. Last May, the two centers produced another report titled “The Union Wage Advantage for Low-Wage Workers.”

“Every study they’ve ever done supports labor unions,” said Matthew Brouillette, president of the Harrisburg-based Commonwealth Foundation. “They clearly are a mouthpiece for organized labor.”

If KRC is receiving state funds, they have to be objective…right?

As to DGS’ faith in the objectivity of KRC to determine the wisdom of a union-only PLA, Mr. Zeh [President, Associated Builder and Contractors Southeast Pennsylvania Chapter] said he is far from reassured.

“It’s obvious that they have a bias toward the unions for an obvious reason,” he said, referring to KRC’s organized-labor ties. “They’re anti-competitive and have a monopolistic approach to construction.”

One prison project ABC cited as adversely impacted by a PLA was SCI Forest in northwest Pennsylvania. The $94-million undertaking concluded at over $10 million over budget and more than two years behind schedule.

What do contractors think?

Paul Langan, director of business development at the Tri-M Group, an electrical solutions company headquartered in Kennett Square, said a potential PLA for the Graterford project, and KRC’s role in studying it, trouble him on two levels.

“It’s not simply a problem for the business,” he said. “It’s a problem for the taxpayers and the public. Forget my position in business. I’m a taxpayer. Every April 15, I have the pleasure of sending the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania a check. I don’t like the way they’re spending my money.”

And another contractor?

Steve Stoughton, a construction executive at Pipersville-based Worth & Company, echoed those sentiments.

“We’ve lost numerous opportunities as a result of PLAs in Pennsylvania,” he said. “My real feeling is, I’m a taxpayer, and I’m paying for these projects … It jeopardizes what our country was founded on as far as freedom.”

Oh yeah, and how do PLAs impact minorities?

According to Sam Foley, general counsel for the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Minority Contractors (NAMC), PLAs’ effect on nonunion contractors is particularly acutely felt in workplaces that are minority-owned. Only about 20 percent of African-American construction companies in the Philadelphia area are unionized, he said, due to the high costs that unionization entails. NAMC strongly opposes union-labor deals for this reason.

“They are exclusionary,” Mr. Foley said. “They are barriers to entry.”

It sounds like Big Labor has a fox in the hen house.

Read the entire article.

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