A Barre Montpelier Times Argus editorial misses the mark in its analysis of the “benefits” of union membership provided to construction workers through controversial project labor agreement (PLA) proposed on the Lake Champlain Bridge (“Bridge the Divide,” 4/2/10).
Vermont companies probably don’t want Vermont workers to be bitten by the union bug, but by participating in the bridge project, they would have to participate in a process that shows workers the benefits that unionization can bring. Meanwhile, the Douglas administration will be trying to negotiate an agreement to make participation in the project less onerous to nonunion companies from Vermont.
Just as Vermont has had to make allowances for the role of unions on the other side, New York must make allowances for Vermont and the way Vermont companies and workers have traditionally done business. If there is a PLA, it must reflect Vermont’s needs in a fair way.
First, you can’t have a PLA and “reflect Vermont’s needs in a fair way.” PLAs are built on a foundation of unfairness against nonunion employers and employees. The Lake Champlain Brudge PLA specifically limits the number of nonunion employees a contractor can employ (16 percent of a trade’s workforce is the maximum). Because just 4.5 percent of Vermont’s private construction workforce is unionized, these special interest schemes designed to create jobs for unions are the wrong vehicle to achieve fairness.
Second, opposition to a PLA on the Lake Champlain Bridge by Vermont construction companies does not stem from the fear that workers will be “bittten by the union bug.” Nonunion contractors object to the fact that a PLA would saddle businesses with excessive costs that make it difficult to compete against unionized contractors in the highly competitive bidding process. A PLA would ensure that unionized New York businesses will build this project while qualified nonunion Vermont firms and their skilled employees are essentially locked out.
Meanwhile, nonunion employees object to the fact that they would be treated like second class citizens while working under a PLA on the Lake Champlain Bridge.
For example, with a PLA, Big Labor Bosses shakedown nonunion employees for union dues for the life of the project.
PLAs also take away employee’s workplace rights:
Employees normally are permitted to choose whether to join a union through a card check process or a federally supervised private ballot election. PLAs require unions to be the exclusive bargaining representative for workers during the life of the project. The decision to elect union representation is made by the employer – when agreeing to participate in a PLA – rather than the employees. PLAs are called pre-hire agreements because they can be negotiated before the contractor hires any employees or employees vote on union representation. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) generally prohibits pre-hire agreements, but an exception in the act allows for these agreements only in the construction industry. In short, government-mandated PLAs strip away the right of construction workers to a federally supervised private-ballot election or a card check election when deciding whether or not to unionize their workplace and/or seek union representation. PLAs would deny employees a system of merit-based pay.
In addition, nonunion employees must follow unfamiliar and inefficient union work rules that hinder the ability of construction workers from gaining experience performing jobsite tasks across traditional trade jurisdictions. This also prevents contractors from efficiently utilizing labor and delivering the best possible product at the best possible price to taxpayers.
Finally, under a PLA, nonunion employees would forfeit fringe benefit contributions that their nonunion employers must pay into union benefit plans on their behalf. Nonunion employees would essentially work without benefits for the life of a PLA project while Big Labor’s plans and its participants get a cushy windfall.
If these are the alleged “benefits” of a PLA and union membership, it is no wonder Vermont politicians, construction businesses and employees oppose PLAs.
Of course, Vermont’s construction professionals are free to join a union and seek employment through union hiring halls with unionized contractors whenever they want, so the premise that construction employees have been denied union membership through some sort of nefarious plot is false.
Vermont’s construction workforce should be free to experience the benefits of union membership by exercising their own free will — not because the government is forcing them to play by union rules (in order to make a living) — as is the case with a government-mandated PLA.
An article in Saturday’s Burlington Free Press covered Friday’s Vermont Senate hearing that examinedVermont government’s objections to the PLA (“Controversy brews over Lake Champlain Bridge Labor Agreement,” 4/3). An article in today’s Rutland Herald has some nice quotes from Vermont officials too (“Unions: State wrong on bridge contract,” 4/5).
UPDATE: Mark Holden of Associated Builders and Contractors’ New Hampshire/Vermont Chapter tells the truth about the proposed Champlain Bridge PLA on the April 2 edition of the “Mark Johnson Show” on WDEV-AM in Waterbury, VT.
Download Mark’s interview here.