The Baltimore Sun reported that legislation has been introduced before the Baltimore City Council that would require project labor agreements (PLAs) on city projects greater than $5 million (“Union laborers would be first in line for city projects under new bill,” 3/8/10).
It is no surprise that the bill is being misrepresented by Big Labor lobbyists such as Jayson T. Williams, legislative director for the local chapter of the Laborers International Union of North America, and their political allies like Councilman Bill Henry, as a tool to create jobs for local Baltimore residents.
Of course, the real truth is that PLAs are special interest agreements that create jobs for local union members at the expense of local nonunion employees (just 12.6 percent of the MD private construction workforce belongs to a union according to www.unionstats.com) and contractors in the construction industry. In the end, taxpayers foot the bill for the added costs associated with these anti-competitive agreements.
But the head of the state’s powerful contractors group said the law could prove disastrous to small businesses.
“It would put us out of business,” said Pless B. Jones, owner of P&J Contracting and president of the Maryland Minority Contractor Association. “Eighty-five percent [of area] contractors are nonunion.”
The bill is a thinly veiled power grab by the unions, he said.
Mike Henderson, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors lobbying group, said the measure could have the opposite effect, forcing the city to grant contracts to union contractors from the surrounding counties and states.
“It’s a terrible idea in every conceivable way,” Henderson said, adding that the bill would drive up construction costs. “It’s discriminatory, inflationary and with no possible societal benefit.”
Henry has offered to facilitate a meeting to discuss the issue with both sides. The council’s labor subcommittee will hold hearings on the bill before it can be presented to the full council for a vote.
With the U.S. construction industry unemployment rate hovering at 27 percent, all unemployed construction workers should have a fair opportunity to deliver to taxpayers the best possible construction project at the best possible price. Despite the honorable intent of creating jobs for local residents, PLAs play favorites and ensures that politically well-connected unions solely benefit from jobs created by public works projects.
Review a sample PLA and see how PLAs harm nonunion contractors, their employees and taxpayers here.