Union Favor on Federal Construction Project in New Hampshire Draws Criticism

0 February 9, 2012  Federal Construction

This week, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) grabbed headlines with her public opposition to President Obama’s discriminatory policy, Executive Order 13502, favoring union contractors and union members competing for federal construction contracts.

In a press release and letter to the White House issued Monday, Sen. Ayotte asked President Obama to repeal his pro-union Executive Order 13502 and remove the anti-competitive and costly union project labor agreement (PLA) mandated by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) on a $20 million to $50 million DOL Job Corps Center in Manchester, N.H.

The DOL’s Jan. 30 solicitation (DOL121RB20457) for the Manchester Job Corps Center mandates a union-favoring PLA.

Bidding is only open to certified small business contractors willing to agree to the terms and conditions of the union-friendly PLA drafted and mandated by the DOL.

Qualified federal contractors played no part in creating this government-mandated PLA, which requires contractors to obey numerous union collective bargaining agreements, pay into union pension and benefit plans, follow inefficient union work rules, hire most of their employees through union hiring halls for the life of the project and force unwanted union representation on nonunion employees.The PLA is a direct assault on New Hampshire’s ”Live Free or Die” state motto.

In New Hampshire, 85.5 percent of the construction workforce does not belong to a labor union, according to new government data. The state does not have a history of using government-mandated PLAs and few federal small business contractors are unionized, leading many in the industry to believe out-of-state union contractors and union workers from Boston will steal jobs away from the New Hampshire construction industry, which is already suffering from a grim construction economy.

According to a press release issued by ABC New Hampshire/Vermont President Mark Holden:

The government-mandated PLA has the potential to again delay this project, increase costs, reduce competition from qualified New Hampshire businesses and deny badly needed jobs to skilled New Hampshire construction workers who have freely chosen not to belong to a union.

The Union Leader ran an article about this controversy (“Sen. Ayotte slams bidding for Manchester Job Corps Center,” 2/7/12):

Sen. Kelly Ayotte is calling on the Obama administration to scrap all union-friendly project labor agreements, saying they are the reason the planned Job Corps Center in Manchester has yet to be built.

In a letter to Obama released Monday, Ayotte asked the President to reverse his executive order requiring federal projects over $25 million to consider using project labor agreements, or PLAs. In his State of the Union address, Obama said he wanted to cut government red tape. These agreements would be a good place to start, the Republican senator said.

“Federal government-mandated PLAs needlessly increase construction costs and limit the ability of non-union companies to successfully compete for government construction contracts,” wrote Ayotte. “This Washington mandate also significantly slows down the procurement of construction projects, forcing workers to wait on the sidelines until the PLA winds its way through the federal bureaucracy.”

Foster’s Daily Democrat editorial also blasts the DOL’s anti-competitive and costly union-friendly PLA mandate on the Job Corps Center (“The union souffle is falling fast,” 2/9/12):

While there is some debate on the actual impact of PLAs on construction costs, PLAs should play no role in a free an open marketplace.

Unions argue that even though union labor — or union labor rates — may increase the cost of constructions projects, their workers bring to the table better skills and quality assurance. These, in the long run, supposedly make the extra costs worthwhile.

If that is true unions should be willing to compete on the merit of their argument. Bidding on such projects as the Job Corps Center should not be delayed by the prerequisite of a PLA. The impact of union labor on a projected should be part of the bid offered by contractors who may of their own free will choose to use union labor — no pre-mandate.

Such dictatorial practices go a long way in alienating the general public. They fuel Right to Work efforts in states such as New Hampshire. And they leave such a sour taste in he mouths of Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public that union ranks nationally have fallen faster than a souffle after the oven door is slammed shut while baking.

PLA Controversy Delayed Project
TheTruthAboutPLAs.com readers may recall previous media coverage of the Job Corps Center project, which most recently included a Dec. 23  holiday-themed op-ed in the New Hampshire Union Leader  by Holden. It summarizes the long-running controversy surrounding the DOL’s PLA mandate on the Job Corps Center and the absurdity of this gift to Big Labor at the expense of New Hampshire businesses and workers. It was penned in response to the DOL’s Dec. 22, 2011 pre-solicitation indicating the project would be subject to a PLA mandate.

Op-Ed: Stalling Job Corps Center to benefit out-of-state unions

By Mark Holden

It may be beginning to look a lot like Christmas, but many New Hampshire construction workers and businesses are expecting a lump of coal in their stockings from the federal government.

In this case, the Grinch is the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), which is planning to build a $35 million Job Corps Center in Manchester with federal tax dollars.  Unfortunately, the DOL is poised to ensure the project is built by out-of-state union labor and union contractors, despite the fact that more than 91 percent of New Hampshire’s construction workforce chooses not to belong to a construction labor union.

The DOL is mandating a union-favoring project labor agreement (PLA) on the Job Corps Center.  Created by unions as a way to circumvent the free market and regain lost market share, a PLA typically requires contractors to replace most or all of their existing workforce with unfamiliar union labor, follow archaic and inefficient union work rules, and pay into underfunded union pension and benefit plans if they want to win contracts.

New Hampshire’s skilled nonunion workers are forced to accept unwanted union representation and pay union dues, yet they will forfeit benefits paid into union pension and benefit plans during the life of the project unless they join a union and become vested in these plans.

Such humbuggery has the effect of discouraging competition from New Hampshire’s qualified contractors and their local employees.

Reduced competition coupled with costly union red tape needlessly increases construction costs.  Studies by the Beacon Hill Institute in Boston indicate projects subject to prevailing wage laws built with government mandated PLAs are 12 percent and 18 percent more expensive compared to similar non-PLA projects subject to government-determined wage and benefit rates. The research comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with Boston’s Big Dig boondoggle, which was built with a PLA mandate.

In short, government-mandated PLAs are a gift to Big Labor at the expense of taxpayers and New Hampshire construction businesses and tradespeople.

If this controversy has the disappointing familiarity of a re-gifted fruitcake, it is because the DOL tried to mandate a PLA on the Job Corps Center in 2009.  In the face of such blatant discrimination, a brave contractor, North Branch Construction of Concord, filed a bid protest against the DOL’s anti-competitive PLA. Instead of proceeding with PLA-free construction subject to fair and open competition – which would result in badly needed local job creation – the DOL canceled the project.

Not to be deterred, the DOL retained the services of a consultant, Hill International, to prepare a report justifying and defending a PLA requirement. The report cost taxpayers $130,000. It was the second PLA report Hill International prepared for the DOL. The first report, which trumpeted the alleged benefits of PLAs on federal construction projects, cost taxpayers $300,000. The latest report is so shoddy and full of pro-PLA bias, taxpayers will wish it came with a gift receipt.

The DOL and the federal government’s discriminatory policy is the product of an executive order signed by President Obama just a few days after moving into the White House in 2009. The measure encourages federal agencies to mandate PLAs on a case-by-case basis on large federal construction projects exceeding $25 million in total cost.

It is no coincidence it steers federal contracts to one of the White House’s and Democrat party’s biggest political patrons: Big Labor.

So while the Grinch has come to town, stealing Christmas hopes and dreams away from The Granite State’s workers and their families, will any of the GOP presidential candidates take a stand against deceptive payback to Big Labor prior to New Hampshire’s Jan. 10 primary?

All nonunion contractors and their employees want this holiday season is the ability to fairly compete.  Some members of Congress, such as New Hampshire Sen. Ayotte, Rep. Frank Guinta and Rep. Charlie Bass, have stood up for free enterprise and New Hampshire families in support of legislation (S. 119 and H.R. 735) to “preserve open competition and federal government neutrality toward the labor relations of federal government contractors on federal and federally funded construction projects.”

That’s exactly what should happen. The federal government should preserve the right of everyone to fairly compete for jobs, not just a select few.

Congress should pass this legislation or a new president should undo President Obama’s destructive policy catering to well-connected special interests. It’s the only surefire way to keep the federal Grinch at bay.


Mark Holden is the president of the New Hampshire/Vermont Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors. To learn more about anti-competitive PLAs, visit www.TheTruthAboutPLAs.com.

Obama Administration’s First Federal PLA Mandate
The DOL mandated a PLA on this project in 2009. It was the first PLA mandated by a federal agency on a federal construction project following President Obama’s Feb. 6, 2009 Executive Order 13502, which encourages federal agencies to mandate PLAs on a case-by-case basis on federal construction projects exceeding $25 million in total cost. The DOL’s 2009 PLA mandate was especially unusual because it was issued prior to the Federal Acquisition Regulatory (FAR) Council final rule (pdf), issued April 13, 2010, and effective May 13, 2010, implementing Executive Order 13502 into federal procurement regulations (learn more here).

Similar attempts by federal agencies to mandate PLAs before and after the effective date of the FAR final rule were foiled by ABC contractor-led bid protests (learn more here).

Last summer, the project and PLA controversy received attention from the New Hampshire Union Leader (“Jobs Corps Center project going forward,” 8/20/11and a related press release from Sen. Ayotte (“Senator Ayotte Expresses Concerns about Labor Requirement for Manchester Job Corps Project,” 8/19/11) in response to the DOL’s August announcement they will proceed with construction and mandate a PLA despite previous controversy.

Executive Order 13502 and the related FAR rule remain controversial White House gifts to Big Labor likely to increase federal construction costs, reduce economy and efficiency in federal contracting, reduce competition from quality nonunion contractors and their skilled employees, and deny taxpayers the accountability they deserve from the government.

TheTruthAboutPLAs.com will be following the DOL Job Corps Center PLA closely in the coming weeks.

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