Boston Herald Opposes Project Labor Agreements

0 June 8, 2009  State & Local Construction, Uncategorized

Our post about the San Diego Union-Tribune’s anti-PLA editorial reminded me of an anti-PLA editorial published by the Boston Herald (“Stimulus for some,” 4/8/09) a few weeks prior to the launch of  The Herald’s excellent editorial came on the heels of an AP story about Mass. considering PLAs on projects funded by the federal stimulus legislation (pdf). The editorial is so good it is worth revisiting (as are other anti-PLA editorials in U.S. Newspapers).

Stimulus for some

By Boston Herald Editorial staff | Wednesday, April 8, 2009

 Jobless Americans – including a quarter million Massachusetts residents – need to get back to work. What they don’t need are artificial obstacles to their re-employment. But that is what many will confront if organized labor has its way.

Yes, Bay State labor leaders are still pushing to require “project labor agreements” on large public construction projects financed with federal stimulus money, The Associated Press reported over the weekend.

Under a PLA, an owner agrees to use union labor in exchange for unions agreeing not to strike. Sporting of them, no?

The agreement restricts non-union contractors from bidding on the job.  (As if non-union carpenters and masons aren’t showing up in unemployment lines too.)

Research has also indicated that by limiting competition PLAs drive up both bid and actual construction costs. And frankly taxpayers deserve to get more for their bucks, not less.

Unions argue that, thanks to a steady supply of highly-skilled union labor, PLAs ensure that projects are completed on schedule and within budget. But the Big Dig shreds that argument. Labor also tries to make the case that PLAs magically ensure on-the-job safety, which simply strains credulity.

If Gov. Deval Patrick buys what the unions who supported his campaign are selling – as an administration task force has recommended he do – then the 16 percent of the Massachusetts construction industry that is unionized will have cause to celebrate. Some stimulus.

We couldn’t have said it better.

On 3/22 The Boston Globe ran a fierce op-ed debate between ABC Mass. President Greg Beeman and Mark Erlich, executive secretary-treasurer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters here (pdf).

Erlich attacked the Beacon Hill Institute’s (BHI) study on PLAs for Massachussetts school construction (the same study cited in the San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial) which found that PLAs increase the cost of construction.  BHI Executive Director David G. Tuerck responded to Erlich’s misguided attack on the study in  The Boston Globe (“Protecting Monopoly,” 3/26). It is worth revisiting because Tuerck’s response is accurate and strong, and unions frequently attack BHI’s studies because they tell The Truth About PLAs increasing the cost of construction.

Protecting Monopoly 3/22/09

IN HIS op-ed defending project labor agreements (“Unions a stabilizing force,” March 22), Mark Erlich claims that that our first 2003 study of school building projects had to be “completely revised” following “a stinging critique of the data, methodology, and conclusions.” The fact is that we updated that study when several additional months of investigation permitted us to double the number of schools in our sample. In the second study, we found that PLAs added 14 percent to the minimum project bid, rather than 17 percent, as in our original study. Somehow, Erlich did not feel compelled to recognize that finding, or our finding, in subsequent studies that, for school building projects in Connecticut and New York, PLAs increased bids by 15 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

PLAs and the Prevailing Wage Law are aimed at protecting the union monopoly over the minority of construction workers who belong to unions. The effect of that monopoly is to limit the number of construction projects that can be undertaken and to limit the number of construction workers who can be hired – a result that gives the lie to Erlich’s hypocritical expression of sympathy for blue-collar workers.

The writer is executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute

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