Today’s Boston Globe column by Scot Lehigh criticizes Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s support of project labor agreements (PLAs) on future construction projects in exchange for political support from construction trade unions in the upcoming election (“Courting Trade Unions,” 3/31).
Lehigh nails a key point questioning the alleged benefits of PLAs:
But that PLA benefit is easily trumped by this undeniable unfairness: Imposing PLAs means non-union Massachusetts construction workers will, through their taxes, help fund projects where they have no real chance of being hired.
PLA targets include a new $150 million science center at UMass Boston, an academic building at UMass Amherst, a library project at Salem State College, and a new Lowell courthouse.
The non-union construction sector is understandably upset. PLAs, which require that all hiring for a project be done through union halls, that all workers pay union dues, and that all project contractors be bound by rigid union work rules, sharply tilt the playing field in favor of unionized companies.
“There are logistical and philosophical hurdles that are extremely difficult to overcome for an open-shop firm,’’ says Ron Cogliano, president of the Merit Construction Alliance, an association of open-shop contractors. “For example, it’s virtually impossible to have your own crew working with you on a PLA job. And given that, it’s impossible to prepare a realistic bid.’’
Greg Beeman, president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Massachusetts, notes that if his umbrella group for non-union contractors tried to require that every firm working on a particular public project had to come to his shop for workers, the unions would be outraged.
“So why, when things are reversed, it is suddenly acceptable public policy?’’ he asks.
So where are some of the other gubernatorial candidates on PLAs?
Opposed, says Republican Christy Mihos. Independent candidate Tim Cahill’s campaign couldn’t provide his position by deadline.
“Public construction projects should be open to all bidders,’’ GOP hopeful Charles Baker said in a statement. “Competition is important to ensure the best deal for the taxpayers and the state.’’
Certainly increased competition promotes lower costs. Further, if union workers, with their putative experience and expertise, can do the job just as cheaply, union firms shouldn’t need PLAs.
On this one, the Republicans have it right. The plate of PLA plums Patrick is waving as he seeks reelection may make the unions salivate, but the restrictive agreements are bad public policy.
TheTruthAboutPLAs.com has long maintained PLAs are bad public policy and are nothing but political sweetheart deals in exchange for Big Labor Bosses’ political support. Be sure to read the entire editorial. Great stuff.