On Sept 22, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Management, Organization, and Procurement held a hearing called, “Minority Contracting: Opportunities and Challenges for Current and Future Minority-Owned Businesses.”
Testimony (pdf) of Anthony W. Robinson, president of the Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund (MBELDEF) pointed to union-favoring government-mandated project labor agreements (PLAs) as a barrier to job creation for minorities in the construction industry and one of numerous problems faced by minority contractors:
It is clear that the construction trade labor unions have been, and remain, a serious obstacle to the participation of minority contractors and workers in the construction industry. They intimidate minority-owned construction firms to discourage utilization of minority construction workers, discourage workforce development in higher-paying skilled trades, send less qualified workers to minority-owned construction firms, and discriminate against minority-group workers in apprenticeship programs. The execution of project labor agreement was also cited as disadvantageous to minority owned construction companies and their desire to employ minority workers.
The testimony cites examples of discrimination Mr. Robinson collected during field interviews across eight U.S. cities on issues impacting minority contractors and stakeholders.
This is not the first time U.S. Congress has heard testimony stating that government-mandated PLAs are harming minority contractors and discouraging job creation for minorities.
On August 6, 1998, the U.S. House of Representatives Small Business Committee held a hearing on project labor agreements and their negative impact on women and minority owned businesses. Access testimony from The Administration’s Policy of Discrimination: Project Labor Agreement’s Negative Impact on Women- and Minority-Owned Small Businesses here.
Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), has also shared with Congress this critique of PLAs in various letters and statements:
“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.
There have been rouses of diversity pre-apprenticeship training programs during the past twenty years but no increase in diversity at the apprenticeship to journeymen levels. The higher incidence of union labor in the construction industry, the lower African American employment will be realized. This is constant throughout the nation.
Also, and equally important, the higher use of union shops brings a correlated decrease in the amount of Black owned businesses being involved on a worksite.”
– NBCC Policy Statement on Project Labor Agreements
With the construction industry facing 17.2 percent unemployment and unemployment rates within the black and hispanic population greater than white unemployment, one wonders why the federal government (and many state and local governments) are encouraging government-mandated PLAs.
For instance, on Feb. 6, 2009, President Obama’s signed Executive Order 13502. It encourages federal agencies to require PLAs on federal projects exceeding $25 million in total cost. In April of this year, this discriminatory and illegal order was implented into federal procurement regulations. While not a mandate, the order and regulations will result in more discriminatory PLAs on federal construction projects, which is likely to harm minority contractors and fail at creating jobs for minority job seekers.
It’s another example of special interest politics trumping sound public policy.
Voters can help restore accountability in government contracting and create federal contracting opportunities for minority businesses and jobs for minority employees by asking their elected officials to support The Government Neutrality in Contracting Act (S.90/H.R. 983), which prohibits the federal government from requiring PLAs on federal and federally assisted construction projects.
We need your help to end anti-competitive and costly PLA schemes.