In one of the most outstanding and complete breakdowns of the project labor agreement (PLA) issue in the blogosphere, BigGovernment.com contributor “Liberty Chick” outlines the sad history of PLAs nationwide and specifically in California in a post titled, “California’s Class Warfare: PLAs Pit Union and Nonunion Workers Against Each Other.”
This post – complete with videos and graphs – touches on almost every aspect of these special interest handouts, including that PLAs are designed only to keep the construction unions in business, they discriminate against women and minorities and the construction unions are using state environmental regulations to keep nonunion workers from competing for work.
This blog post is required reading for anyone who wants to learn more about PLAs and Big Labor’s drive to monopolize taxpayer-funded construction work. Here are several excerpts.
On the Riverside College District PLA requirement adopted in December 2009:
Ten minutes prior to the start of a December 15th, 2009 board meeting of the Riverside Community College District in California, board members are handed a 52-page document filled with millions of dollars in projects to be funded by the district’s taxpayers, who themselves are struggling under the state’s 12.4% unemployment rate. The document, a draft Project Labor Agreement (PLA), will commit long-term construction and ancillary projects for the next several years to labor unions.
At least twenty-three members of the public, many of them local private business owners who oppose the PLA, have attended [the meeting] to publicly comment on the proposal. Two of the board members have never even seen the PLA prior to today, and have asked for a special session to review it. Despite opposition from the public, and the concern voiced by those two board members, the remaining three board members have moved that the Board of Trustees authorize Chancellor Greg Gray to negotiate the final PLA with the Riverside and San Bernardino Building and Construction Trade Councils. Board Trustees Virginia Blumenthal and Janet Green dissented.
So, without adequate time for all to review the draft, without any backup analysis provided to justify the use of up to $350,000,000 in Measure C taxpayer funds, without giving the public reasonable time to voice their opinions, and with an unemployment rate of over 12% when non-union workers are in even greater need of jobs than union workers…why would three of Riverside’s five board members vote to move forward with a final negotiation anyway? Why the rush? Residents and business owners in Riverside are wondering the same thing, and hope to have the chance to weigh in before the PLA’s final draft is signed.
On Greenmail in California:
…federal and state laws have been passed over time to improve conditions for workers in America, leading to the creation of federal agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Labor (DOL) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to name only a few. While labor unions once represented a large portion of workers in America prior to the existence of such laws and agencies, workers now have proper outlets and interest in voluntary union membership has declined. As such, labor unions are turning again to PLAs as a tool in helping them to survive.
While PLAs were once largely embraced in a marketplace when unions represented a greater majority of workers in the US, today’s PLAs must claim other benefits to be reasonably received by a general public that is no longer largely unionized. Today’s PLAs purport to extend jobs to non-union workers, when in reality they place new impositions on both employers and workers, such as mandatory union-hall hiring, forcing non-union workers to pay union dues and make contributions to others’ pension funds. With the advent of the strict standards of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), PLAs now typically promise union sanctioned “environmental expertise”, adding another weapon to big labor’s arsenal. Since most unions receive public funding for environmental training and mitigation, union bosses use it to assert their perceived authority by challenging projects on environmental grounds. They effectively hold a project hostage until the parties agree to a PLA and allow union shops to take control of the project’s labor requirements. It’s nothing less than blackmail, which is how a new spin on the old term “greenmail” came to be mainstream, as effectively illustrated in the video below. (TTAPLAs NOTE: Read more on Greenmail here)
President Obama, California and PLAs:
Lately it’s as though progressives are trying to relive the New Deal days, allowing politics, not need, to drive who gets jobs, money, resources and contracts. The influence of politics on governmental decisions and policies is certainly having its impact on how many opportunities are created for the majority of Americans, versus for just a very small subset that are the union workers.
In February 2009, as one of his first duties in office, President Obama signed an executive order that authorized federal executive agencies to use project labor agreements on federal construction contracts with a total cost of $25 million or more. The order also revoked President Bush’s prior ban on mandatory PLAs, an action he’d taken after congressional hearings produced evidence that PLAs were discriminatory against open-shops and non-union workers, increased costs on most projects and were too often vehicles for abuse . When the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed only days after Obama’s order, agencies were encouraged to mandate PLAs for all stimulus projects.
Recently, skepticism of PLAs has increased under closer scrutiny of stimulus project awards, and more business journalists have been examining current unemployment numbers, looking at who’s getting jobs from stimulus projects, and at the relation of such issues to unionization statistics, as well as reporting on potential abuses.
California is a prime example of such governing policies that reckon back to the 1930’s, but in a day when the current level of union membership no longer justifies the pro-union policy. Backed by the State Building and Construction Trades Council (an arm of AFL-CIO), the state is awash in cost-prohibitive union PLAs right now, even in light of its dismal financial situation. It almost defies logic.
Other PLA spending in California includes:
* The Long Beach Airport Terminal Improvement Project is moving forward with its $35 million PLA, despite its projected $11 million budget deficit, a gasoline tax, parking fee increases, spending cuts and the closure of several fire stations.
* The Northern California Power Agency project’s $432 million PLA will deliver $60 million for labor unions alone
* Under Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a former union organizer himself, Los Angeles has undertaken numerous PLA projects, including the Mass Transit Authority, which has already increased fares and taxes on residents, as it takes on the added cost that a PLA will bring to the project.
* View a complete list of over 400 PLAs implemented in California between 2000 and April 2009
The state faces a $20 billion budget deficit, it issued I.O.U.s in taxpayers’ refunds, and recently Standard & Poor’s lowered its credit rating, following downgrades already made by Moody’s Investors and by Fitch Ratings.
California taxpayers have also been dealt a series of other costs, such as an extra 10% taken from their paycheck withholding, a 5% surcharge on state income taxes, an increased sales tax, and increases in ancillary fees such as vehicle licensing fees. While they struggle with these cost increases, taxpayers will also foot the bill for the increased costs of PLAs. Meanwhile, they struggle with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.
The Impact of PLAs on minorities:
And before any of our readers start ranting that being against PLAs means being against minorities, check your stats. While blacks and Hispanics represent 23% of the general population, only an average of 8% of construction union members are minorities. Labor leaders and progressive groups will often insist that PLAs ensure that minority workers have fair access to construction work, yet this is simply untrue. Open competition however will ensure fair access. And it is actually the non-union associations and conservative think tanks that have been working tirelessly to change this. The CATO Institute published a paper by David Bernstein in 1993 titled The Davis-Bacon Act: Let’s Bring Jim Crow to an End, which details the history of how the 1931 prevailing wages law has intentionally excluded minorities from the construction industry and why it should be repealed. Popular belief has also often been that unions are largely dominated by members with little or no secondary education, when in fact in California specifically, the majority have a college degree or some college. While many of those are in public administration and education, the majorities also include those in transportation and construction.
As we await final regulations on President Obama’s Executive Order 13502, encouraging PLAs on federal construction costing over $25 million, the California situation is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. The decline of construction union membership described in this post is not unique to California; it is occurring throughout the country.
PLAs, like the Employee Free (Forced) Choice Act, represent Big Labor’s hail mary. Rather than transforming themselves to compete in the 21st century workplace, unions would rather rig the rules to their own advantage at the taxpayers’ expense.
Again, this post is outstanding. Thanks to BigGovernment.com and Liberty Chick for helping to expose the truth about PLAs.
Visit here for our recent rundown of California PLA activity as well.