Project Labor Agreements Don’t Guarantee a Local Workforce

1 May 21, 2010  State & Local Construction, Uncategorized

When Big Labor claims project labor agreements (PLAs) guarantee a local workforce, challenge that assertion.  Inquire and request documentation explaining the local union hall’s policy on “travelers” or “boomers” and ask elected officials in charge of construction projects to have local union halls submit their policy in writing.  Typically, union collective bargaining agreements and PLAs give out-of-area travelers/boomers preference over skilled local nonunion labor – and even local union labor.

As this article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal demonstrates, union agreements allow unionized employers to request union travelers from other union halls for specific projects, resulting in non-local travelers taking jobs from local union members (and nonunion employees too) (“Ironworkers union settles dispute over traveling,” 5/15/10).

Ironworkers Local 433 has to publicly denounce the practice of denying job referrals to members of other locals who seek work in Las Vegas, according to a pending settlement of a labor dispute.

The agreement being completed by Local 433 and the National Labor Relations Board responds to a San Diego man who claims the Las Vegas local broke the union’s labor agreement by ignoring “traveling” members with higher qualifications in order to steer work to its Las Vegas members during the present slow construction market. 

Derek Dixon, a black union ironworker from San Diego who has worked here periodically over the past four years, went to the labor board in January, alleging Local 433 had failed to dispatch him to a job in the summer 2009, even though Schuff Steel Co., at work on the new Veterans Administration hospital in North Las Vegas, had requested Dixon by name.” [snip]

Dixon has worked around the nation and in Puerto Rico, since many nationwide steel erecting companies call for him by name at the union halls nearest their construction sites.

When construction activity is high, union hiring halls often call on other union halls to send travelers to staff a construction project. Under PLAs and typical union hiring hall rules, these union travelers have preference over qualified local nonunion workers – who frequently compose more than 80 percent of the local construction workforce.  So don’t let Big Labor get away with claims that PLAs guarantee a local workforce. Yet another pro-PLA argument debunked by TheTruthAboutPLAs.com.

It is worth noting this case has an element of racial discrimination too.

As a result of Dixon’s charge, Local 433 and the labor board are completing a settlement that requires the union to pay him three weeks of lost wages and to post in its hall a notice that “we will not restrain and coerce Travelers by making intimidating statements to them or by telling them that they will not receive dispatch referrals by Local 433 because they are Travelers.”

Dixon objects to the settlement because it minimizes the economic hit he took, and because it ignores his theory the union also passed him over because he is black. The 46-year-old contends that after the dispatcher failed, per Schuff’s request, to call for him by name at the hall, the union later that day gave the job to a white traveling member.

“There was a mob mentality in the (union hall’s) day room,” is how Dixon recalled the July day he confronted Robbie Conway of Local 433 about its failure to dispatch him to the site.

Dixon claims Conway entered the room and said, “‘As long as I’m the B.A. (business agent), no … “boomers” (traveling members) are going to go to work.’ The local guys were like, ‘Yeah, that’s our B.A.’ The boomers, they were just quiet. There wasn’t that many of them.”

In the proposed agreement, Local 433 does not admit it violated federal labor law. But if it had not agreed to the settlement, the National Labor Relations Board was ready to go before a judge with its complaint on Dixon’s behalf.

The San Diego man has said he intends to sue Local 433 for racial discrimination and recovery of six months more in wages, which is how long he thinks Schuff would have kept him on the job if the union had dispatched him back to the hospital job. Dixon had already worked on the VA project for several months before the ironwork temporarily halted, due to a mandatory stoppage for concrete to cure.

Sadly, racial discrimination in union hiring halls is not uncommon. The National Black Chamber of Commerce has long maintained that the institution of construction unions discriminates against black businesses and their employees – and so do PLAs:

It is the policy of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Inc. to oppose Project Labor Agreements. This opposition is based on the fact that African American workers are significantly underrepresented in all crafts of construction union shops. This problem has been persistent during the past decades and there appears to be no type of improvement coming within the next ten years.

NBCC Policy Statement on Project Labor Agreements

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One Response to Project Labor Agreements Don’t Guarantee a Local Workforce

michael murphy July 24, 2012 at 7:29 pm

so if i go 2 san diego and they dont put me on a job even tho they dont have work 4 local hands i should get preference????because they name called me even tho i went around hall 2 get namecall.so its ok 4 local hands 2 sit on bench so company assss kissr can go 2 work?????motorhome lasvegas

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