Why Are Project Labor Agreements Popular with Corrupt, Mismanaged, Fiscally Irresponsible Governments?

0 March 10, 2011  State & Local Construction, Uncategorized

In California, project labor agreements (PLAs) go hand-in-hand with incompetent, unaccountable governments.

Find a school district with low test scores that is close to bankruptcy.

Or find a local government with a massive budget deficit and huge unfunded pension liability for its public employees.

Or find a local government that holds its elections on oddball days so that virtually no one votes in city council elections except cronies and self-interested union activists.

You can assume with confidence that the local government you have identified either already requires contractors to sign a project labor agreement, or its elected officials are thinking about requiring contractors to sign a project labor agreement. (Usually these thoughts occur in conjunction with thoughts about running for more glamourous and personally lucrative elective offices.)

The latest exhibit in the unending carnival of project labor agreements at debased local governments in California is the Los Angeles Community College District.

The elected board of trustees for this college district unanimously voted in 2001 over the objections of Associated Builders and Contractors and the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction to require contractors to sign a project labor agreement for future construction funded by Proposition A, Proposition AA, and Measure J.

That’s several billion dollars of work over the past ten years.

Unions gloated at the time that the project labor agreement “will provide for the use of union workers for the massive project. As with other PLAs in California this will help ensure that the community college projects will be completed on time, on budget and with few labor issues.”

Ten years later, it turns out that the construction program at the Los Angeles Community College District has been truly exceptional for its waste, mismanagement, faulty work, and cronyism.

Reporters for the Los Angeles Times performed 20 months of investigative research into this construction program and produced a six-part series starting on February 27 reporting on how awful it truly is.

As a Los Angeles Times columnist wrote on March 6 in response to the series about the construction program:

“It was a feast. A picnic. And the following will not surprise you: contractors and labor unions donated to district trustees. Contractors and labor unions got jobs. Contractors and labor unions donated to support bond measures. Contractors and labor unions got jobs.”

Regrettably, the reporters did not recognize or acknowledge the significance of the project labor agreement that the college board of trustees approved with construction unions, perhaps because there was already so much obvious “poor planning, frivolous spending and shoddy workmanship” to leave the reporters gaping with disbelief.

Don’t get too excited that the exposure of these issues by a major daily newspaper will change anything.

Based on voting patterns of Los Angeles residents during the past 15 years, voters will probably reward the Los Angeles Community College District for its performance by reelecting the seven board members (with major campaign support from Big Labor) and subsequently approving another $2 billion bond measure (with major campaign support from unions) for the district to squander.

To quote the second axiom from my Axioms on Fighting for the Merit Shop Agenda: “We have two opponents: unions and urban corruption. We can defeat one; we can’t defeat the other.”

Nonetheless, the Los Angeles Times deserves credit for its investigative reporting into this construction program, and Associated Builders and Contractors will continue to pursue its own special task of exposing how elected officials in California waste taxpayer money with Project Labor Agreement payoffs to their construction union campaign supporters.

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