Mackinac Center: Is MSU Hyping Project Labor Agreements

2 October 6, 2009  Federal Construction, State & Local Construction, Uncategorized

In an October 5 commentary titled, “Is MSU Hyping Project Labor Agreements,” Paul Kersey from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy wonders if an October 13 conference held by the Michigan State University (MSU) School of Labor and Industrial Relations is promoting PLAs without examining the wasteful and discriminatory impact of these special interest handouts.

Here’s an excerpt:

A week from today Michigan State University’s School of Labor and Industrial Relations will host a conference on Project Labor Agreements. PLAs effectively require that any bidder on a public construction must have an agreement in place with local construction unions — effectively freezing non-union contractors out of bidding. Since the overwhelming majority — close to 80 percent — of the construction industry in Michigan is non-union, this chokes off most of the potential competitors and raises the cost of construction.

To be fair, MSU has invited PLA critics to make a presentation, but on the whole the agenda suggests that the fix might be in. In particular, the “open shop” (i.e. non-union) contractor representatives make their case at a 2 p.m. session. After a brief break, MSU’s Dale Belman has 30 minutes to give his presentation on “Opening PLAs to the Open Shop.” But since the Associated Builders and Contractors and the other non-union contractors don’t get a response, we the audience will have no way of telling whether or not Belman’s ideas go far enough; Belman has the last word.

Union contractors receive more than enough protection under the state’s prevailing wage law, which mandates union wages on state construction and adds 10 percent to the cost of government construction. That adds up to more than $250 million annually! By blocking out capable contractors, PLAs only drive inflated prices higher.

Here at the, we would like to keep an open mind, but we have the same concerns as Mr. Kersey.  The conference’s agenda is packed with pro-PLA propaganda and its title is “Building Success: Best Practices in Construction Project Labor Agreements.”  We don’t believe there are any best practices for wasting tax dollars or discriminating against women, minorities or the vast majority of America’s construction workforce that decided not to join a labor union.

Additionally, there is something ironic about Dr. Belman giving a presentation on how PLAs work for the open shop. One look at Dr. Belman’s CV shows that he has a long history of advocating union interests in his writing. This certainly calls his objectivity into question.

Ben Brubeck from will have 45 minutes (of an 8 hour conference) to present on the wasteful and discriminatory nature of PLAs. Let’s hope those attending can distinguish the truth from the fiction. will have a full report from the conference next week.

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2 Responses to Mackinac Center: Is MSU Hyping Project Labor Agreements

dale belman October 7, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Dear Andy:
I thought you would appreciate a few modest corrections about our conference.

First, it is sponsored by the School of Labor and Industrial Relations and the School of Planning, Design and Construction.

Also, you might want to direct your readers to my main web site by directing them to

With respect to “Opening PLAs to the Open Shop”, conference participants will have the standard time, about 15 minutes, to ask questions about my presentation. I don’t expect pro-union participants to be any more happy with my presentation than open shop participants.

As they say in politics, the only bad news is no news.


dale belman

BenBrubeck October 7, 2009 at 7:23 pm

To be fair, I am on a panel with two other panelists to present industry concerns about PLAs. I’d estimate that I have about 10 minutes to make the case against PLAs, once you factor in 10 minutes for each panelist and a 15 minute Q&A.

However, I do appreciate the opportunity to tell the truth about PLAs to the audience.

Whenever academia thoughtfully and fairly evaluates this controversial topic, they are intelligent enough to see through weak arguments in support of discriminatory and costly PLAs.

Basic economic theory supports our position that reducing competition from qualified contractors and their skilled workforce will lead to higher costs.

Let’s just hope I have enough time and am capable of communicating the problems with PLAs to the audience.

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