The drive to prohibit wasteful and discriminatory government-mandated project labor agreements (PLAs) in Louisiana got some national media attention this week.
Here are the highlights from the May 25 Washington Examiner piece, “Project Labor Agreements Could be Used to Undermine Right to Work Laws and Force Double Payment of Benefits.”
“Louisiana’s Right-to-Work Law allows employees within the state the right to join a union as well as the right to refrain from joining a union,” John Walters, the Director of Governmental Relations for the Louisiana Chapter of ABC said.
“Workers typically are permitted to choose whether to join a union through a federally supervised private ballot election,” he explained. “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 rather than the employees. PLAs are called pre-hire agreements because they can be negotiated before the contractor hires any workers or employees vote on union representation.”
Union membership declined nationally from 17.5 percent of construction workers in 2000 to 15.6 percent in 2008, and then to 14.5 percent in 2009, the most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show. This disparity between union and non-union workers is particularly acute in Louisiana where almost 96 percent of the construction workforce operates beyond orbit of organized labor, industry records show.
“PLAs are a sop to Big Labor,” Vinnie Vernuccio, a labor counsel with the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) observed. “They unfairly discriminate against ‘merit shop’ – non union – contracting firms. Workers are also put at a disadvantage because they are forced to use the union or pay into the union fund mandated by the PLA.”
PLAs could also be used to coerce non-union employers who already provide their own benefits to pay into union benefit plans, Vernuccio points out.
“This can entail paying into underfunded union pension funds, which can impose huge liabilities on companies,” he said. “PLAs may also require contractors to employ workers from union hiring halls, acquire apprentices from union apprentice programs and require employees to pay union dues.”
In effect, this means private companies would be “double-paying” for worker benefits,” notes Walters, the government relations ABC official.
“If a non-union company signs a PLA for a particular project, they are required to pay for their workers’ health and welfare benefits to union trust funds even though the company is already providing these benefits to the workers individually,” he said. “To make matters worse, workers never see any of the benefits contributed on their behalf to the union trust fund unless they leave their non-union employer, join a union and remain with that union until vested.”
As we have mentioned on this blog before, government-mandated PLAs are legal in Right to Work states. In fact, one of the highest profile PLA-related issues in the US involves the Phase 2 Metro rail expansion to Dulles International Airport in Virginia, which is a Right to Work state.
This threat of PLA activity is why it is vital for lawmakers in Right to Work states to protect their pro-business climate by enacting legislation banning government-mandated PLAs.
In Louisiana, we urge legislators to stand up for their state’s construction industry and the 98 percent of the state’s public construction workforce that chooses not to join a labor union by supporting S.B. 76.