The debate over government-mandated project labor agreements (PLAs) in New Jersey is in the news again. New Jersey’s Asbury Park Press ran a scathing editorial opposed to PLAs (Costly PLAs Must Be Ended, 11/16) that TheTruthAboutPLAs covered here.
The paper published an Op-Ed defending PLAs by Phillip E. Cooney, vice president of the New Jersey Carpenter Contractor Trust, a labor and union contractor organization that directly benefits from government-mandated PLAs (“Project Labor Agreements Preserve State Jobs,” 11/29).
An Op-Ed published 12/3 by Angelo Gaudelli, president of an HVAC contracting company in Millville, discredits Cooney’s pro-PLA arguments and calls Cooney’s commentary “propaganda,” “filled with half-truths,” and “misleading” (“Project Labor Agreements Benefit Unions, Not Taxpayers,” 12/3). TheTruthAboutPLAs.com agrees.
Gaudelli provides a real world illustration of how PLAs increase the cost of construction by reducing bidders to those willing to obey the anti-competitive terms and conditions of a PLA.
Cooney asserts that “The most recent study conducted by three major universities, “Project Labor Agreements’ by Belman, Bodah and Phillips concluded that PLAs neither increase nor decrease costs.”
While I am not in a position to dispute the arguments of college scholars, I am quite capable of comparing apples to apples.
On April 21, the Blackhorse Regional School District in Camden County accepted bids for a heating and air conditioning replacement project at Triton Regional High School. The specifications required a Project Labor Agreement. The lowest bid submitted was $711,592. All bids were rejected.
On Sept. 9, the project was re-bid without the PLA clause. Every other aspect of the original project’s drawings and specifications remained unchanged. The same union contractor submitted the lowest bid of $514,930. A contract was awarded the following day.
The only difference between the two bids was the PLA. It increased the cost by 40 percent.
In this instance, a union contractor in a fair, open, competitive bid was successful in bidding the project and the taxpayers of Camden County saved $196,662 by eliminating the PLA. As Knute Rockne once said, “Win or lose, do it fairly.”
Let me conclude by reiterating that all employees, union and nonunion alike, are paid the same wages on publicly funded projects. All employers, union and nonunion alike, are required to provide liability insurance and workers compensation coverage, to withhold and remit federal and state taxes, to comply with OSHA requirements and the list goes on.
All vendors are paid the same price for their equipment, supplies and services. So who is really protected by a PLA?
It is certainly not the taxpayer, the awarding governmental agency or the employees.
The city of Fall River, MA had a similar experience in 2006 with projects bid with a PLA and then re-bid without a PLA. It is one of many real world examples that demonstrate how PLAs increase construction costs and reduce competition. No biased academic treatise or Big Labor spin doctors can disprove the results of actual bidding in the real world.
With concrete evidence from Fall River and Camden County demonstrating that PLAs increase construction costs, PLA proponents like Cooney must rely on weak pro-PLA arguments like “PLAs preserve state jobs,” and PLAs are the only way to ensure local hire and keep tax dollars in the local economy.
The pro-PLA local jobsargument is misleading. PLAs discourage competition from local and qualified nonunion contractors and employees that are just as local as Big Labor. They pay taxes too. Shouldn’t nonunion contractors and employees deserve a fair opportunity to provide the public the best possible project at the best possible price? Don’t public officials have an obligation to taxpayers to ensure fairness and provide all local businesses and residents an equal opportunity to compete for public projects?
In addition, Big Labor is notorious for bringing in out-of-state workers (known as boomers or travelers in the industry) through local hiring halls and putting them to work ahead of qualified local nonunion craft professionals who are excluded because of PLAs. For example, if PLAs are required by the federal government under Executive Order 13502 on federal construction projects in low union density markets, out of area union members will be imported through union hiring halls to fill jobs that the local union membership can’t fill. When travelers are used, union bosses would rather collect union dues than ensure that construction dollars stay in the local economy.
Finally, PLAs are not a fair or sensible approach to ensure local hire. If local hire is a policy objective of public construction owners, they don’t need a PLA to set and achieve local hiring goals. Public officials can establish these policies through provisions in bid documents and construction contracts or new local hire preference programs and laws. Unlike PLAs, these local hire solutions do not increase the cost of construction or stack the deck in favor of Big Labor.
While it is true PLAs can include language for local hire, (after all, PLAs are contracts and can say anything) such a provision is nothing more than lipstick on the PLA pig.