Carpenters Union Protests Exclusion From Long Beach Airport Project Labor Agreement

0 October 5, 2011  State & Local Construction has reported how government-mandated project labor agreements (PLAs) are opposed by some union contractors and union members for a variety of reasons.

The Long Beach Press-Telegram reported 10/3/11 (pdf) more than 120 carpenters union officials and tradesmen began picketing Long Beach Airport on Monday, saying they were excluded from a government-mandated PLA governing the $29 million airport terminal modernization project:

Dan Macdonald, a representative with Carpenter’s Union Local 1506, said members are being discriminated against for not signing the PLA. The union represents thousands of workers in Southern California and helped build the airport’s new parking garage, local seaport terminal renovations, school construction and other public projects.

“We feel we’re being singled out and excluded simply for not submitting to the (agreement) hammered out between the L.A.-Orange County Building and Trades Council and the airport,” Macdonald said.

Carpenters Union Members Picket Long Beach Airport PLA, photo courtesy of the Long Beach Press-Telegram

Merit shop contractors and their skilled nonunion employees know what it’s like to be on the business end of discrimination as a result of a government-mandated PLA. Welcome to the club, Carpenters union brothers and sisters.

In fact, Jan. 7, 2010, TheTruthAboutPLAs wrote in opposition to the proposed government-mandated PLA on this project.

The Carpenters union’s opposition to this PLA and other government-mandated PLAs differs from the reasoning behind the merit shop contracting community’s opposition to government-mandated PLAs, but both are rooted in concerns of being needlessly prevented from working on a taxpayer-funded project.

Why are the Carpenters Picketing?

The Long Beach Airport PLA was drafted (without contractor input, I might add) by the L.A.-Orange County Building and Trades Council, an umbrella of local construction trades unions. Union lobbyists successfully pushed lawmakers in charge of airport construction to mandate a PLA on this project. Contractors can’t win construction contracts on this project unless they agree to the terms and conditions of the government-mandated PLA.

The Carpenters union has a rocky relationship with the Trades Council in Long Beach, Calif. In many areas of the country, the Carpenters are not part of the Building Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, (BCTD), a national umbrella labor union representing dozens of individual national construction trade unions, or BCTD-affiliated local trades councils.

As a result, the local trades councils drafting a PLA typically assign work traditionally performed by Carpenters union members to other unions in different trades. This takes away jobs from Carpenters union members and undermines the power of Carpenters union leadership.

BCTD leaders claim this work never belonged to the Carpenters in the first place. (Sounds like an archaic and inefficient turf war, doesn’t it?) Carpenters officials claim PLAs drafted by BCTD affiliates interfere with existing Carpenter collective bargaining agreements with signatory contractors and make these firms less competitive.

In short, the response to this controversy is an attempt by the BCTD power structure to restrict innovation, assert control over construction trade unions by deciding who gets new jobs, and force the Carpenters union leadership to fall in line with the BCTD’s agenda.

The BCTD leadership isn’t too fond of the Carpenters opposition to PLA mandates and BCTD control, so they launched a website,, to attack the Carpenters unions.

In fact, it published this piece opposing the Carpenters picket in Long Beach:

The Carpenters under the leadership of Doug McCarron, continue their go it alone policy at the expense of all other building trades craftsmen. will be following this domestic dispute in Big Labor’s house closely.

Lawmakers considering a government-mandated PLA must remember that some union members, union leadership and union-signatory contractors oppose these schemes because it is a barrier to new jobs and opportunity.  Only union members and unionized contractors affiliated with the BCTD promote the use of government-mandated PLAs.

If you consider yourself a die-hard supporter of organized labor, just remember government-mandated PLAs harm some union constituents just as much as they harm nonunion constituents. There is no place for discrimination in government contracting.

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