Report Documents Problems Involving Minorities and Women on PLA Projects

0 April 15, 2011  Federal Construction, State & Local Construction

As part of our ongoing series publishing the truth about government-mandated projects labor agreements (PLAs), here is a chapter documenting Problems Involving Minorities and Women on PLA Projects from Maury Baskin’s Government-Mandated Project Labor Agreements: The Public Record of Poor Performance (2011 Edition).

VII.     PLA Problems Involving Minorities and Women

 Some recent PLAs have included provisions purporting to increase training and business opportunities for local minorities and women.  In part, these clauses have been designed to deflect criticism of unionized construction emanating from minority and women’s groups.  However, several PLA projects have suffered from problems relating to the employment of local minorities and women.

In Detroit, four black female carpenters sued the Stadium Authority for discrimination and failure to provide promised job opportunities to minorities and women on the PLA Tiger Stadium project.[1]

In Chicago, 100 black and female union construction workers were awarded $1.33 million under a consent decree arising out of the Robins Incinerator project, built under a PLA.  The government was forced to sue both the contractor and the Pipe Fitters Union because of a “gross degree of harassment,” including offensive graffiti on portable toilets featuring racial epithets and sexual images.[2]

The biggest contractor on the union-only San Francisco International Airport PLA project was sued by a Los Angeles transit agency alleging that it used bogus minority subcontractors to get millions in unionized subway work.[3] Similar allegations were investigated by the FBI in connection with the San Francisco Airport project. The Los Angeles lawsuit and San Francisco investigation both alleged that white-owned unionized firms set up companies that “either were not qualified or in whom the union companies owned an undisclosed interest.”  The lawsuit also alleged that the union joint venture joined with its sham minority subcontractors to present false claims on subway work to obtain millions of dollars in additional payments.

On Jan. 10, 2000, an Alameda County jury awarded a black construction worker $490,000 for racial harassment on the PLA San Francisco Airport jobsite.  The case centered on a noose left hanging for two months at the site.  For part of the time, the noose contained the effigy of a black man with the worker’s name pinned to it.  At trial, the harassment was attributed to someone dispatched from the union hall.[4]

In 2004, the mayor of Buffalo, N.Y., announced that construction trade unions were failing to meet diversity goals established in the PLA covering $1 billion in school renovation work. The PLA called for at least 35 percent minority participation and 10 percent women participation.[5]

In 2007, the Philadelphia City Council voted to require unions to disclose demographic information and adopt a long-term workforce diversity plan before they would be permitted to sign a PLA to expand the city’s convention center.[6] In a city in which 60 percent of its residents are African-American, Latino and Asian,[7] the union data revealed that “the vast majority of Philadelphia’s unionized construction workers are male, white and live in the suburbs.”[8]

In Washington, D.C., the PLA to build the Washington Nationals baseball stadium called for half of the journeyman construction hours to be performed by city residents, a high percentage of whom are minorities. A subsequent study revealed, however, that city residents only performed 27 percent of the work. Targets to have all new apprentices be city residents and to have their work constitute at least one-fourth of the hours dedicated to construction also fell short.[9]

In 2008, the New York Daily News reported that the PLA containing a similar “community benefits” agreement on construction of the new Yankee Stadium was a “joke.” “The team acknowledges that more than 3,900 people have applied for construction work at the stadium. More than 80 percent didn’t belong to any union. Since you must be a union member to work on the site, the Bronx residents most in need of a job have been shut out of the daily workforce of 1,200.”[10]

Finally, the 2010 study of PLA school construction projects by the New Jersey Department of Labor concluded that PLA projects fell short of the goals for minority participation by a wider margin than non-PLA construction projects. The study also found that statewide apprenticeship rates were higher on non-PLA projects than on PLA projects.[11]

VIII.    Conclusion

 Many quality contractors in the construction industry, both union and nonunion, have worked together to build public projects safely, on time and under budget, without any need for government-mandated PLAs.  Each of the “problem” projects described above, however, was performed under a government-mandated PLA on a discriminatory union-only basis, instead of awarding the work on the basis of merit after full and open competition, regardless of labor affiliation.

As has been shown, PLA construction projects have been plagued by cost overruns, adverse impacts on competition, delays in construction, construction defects, safety problems, and problems related to the local hiring of minorities and women.

Meanwhile, the purported benefits of union-only PLAs have not been demonstrated in actual practice.  The published track record of union-only construction indicates that union-only PLAs are a bad bargain for taxpayers.

NOTE from To learn more, click the appropriate chapter from the report:

  1. Introduction
  2. Increased Costs on PLA Projects
  3. Reduced Competition on PLA Projects
  4. Construction Delays on PLA Projects
  5. Construction Defects on PLA Projects
  6. Safety Problems on PLA Projects

During the last two years, has reported on a number of articles and editorials related to the lack of minority and women participants on government-mandated PLAs.

Blog posts highlighting comments from Harry Alford, CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, often address these concerns.

This recent piece in Red State discussed some remarkable examples of building construction trade union policies perpetuating discrimination in the construction industry.

We hope you have enjoyed learning more

Citations after the jump.

[1] Four Black Female Carpenters Sue, Detroit News, Oct. 29, 1999, C-1.

[2] Construction Firm to Pay $1.33 Million to Settle Racial, Sexual Harassment Case, 45 Construction Labor Report (BNA) 1266 (Jan. 12, 2000).

[3] LA Transit Agency Says Sham Minority Firms Were Used to Win Bids, SF Chronicle, A-9 (Dec. 7, 1999).

[4] Jury Awards Construction Worker $490,000, 45 Construction Labor Report (BNA) 1290 (Jan. 19, 2000).

[5] Buffalo Mayor Says Trades Not Attaining Diversity Goals as Specified in School PLA, Construction Labor Report (BNA) Sept. 22, 2004.

[6] Unions Disclose Minority, Female Numbers of Members in Philadelphia Building Trades, 53 Construction Labor Report (BNA) 1588,(Feb. 13, 2008).

[7] Tom Ferrick Jr.: City Political Climate is Changing on Union Hiring, Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 20, 2008.

[8] Unions Disclose Minority, Female Numbers of Members in Philadelphia Building Trades, 53 Construction Labor Report (BNA) 1588 (Feb. 13, 2008).

[9] Stadium Project Falling Short of City’s Ambitious Hiring Goals, Washington Post, Feb. 24, 2008; see also Think Locally, Hire Regionally, Washington City Paper, Sept. 12, 2007.

[10] Bronx officials deal with Yankees on stadium, New York Daily News, June 19, 2008, available at  The article describes the practice of “checkerboarding,” by which unions transferred Bronx residents already working at another site (not subject to local hire rules) in order to “boost the numbers” in compliance with the Yankee Stadium community benefits agreement.  Of course, this practice results in no net gain in local employment.

[11] Annual Report to the Governor and Legislature, use of Project Labor Agreements in Public Works Building Projects in Fiscal Year 2008 (NJDOL Oct. 2010), available at

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