“Skip the PLA”

0 March 30, 2012  School Construction, State & Local Construction, Uncategorized

Last week, we covered the numerous project labor agreement (PLA)-related events that have occurred in Connecticut in recent weeks.

On Friday, March 23, Meriden Record-Journal op-ed writer Eric Cotton authored a strong piece urging the city not to require a wasteful and discriminatory PLA on two future school construction projects.  Here are the highlights from his op-ed “Skip the PLA“:

The local building trades unions are looking for an exclusive deal that would guarantee they receive the lion’s share of $220 million in renovation work, overriding the normal bidding process. In return, the city would get access to qualified union contractors, a guarantee of no work stoppages and assurances that 30 percent of the work would go to local residents, if possible.

But there’s already an abundance of qualified contractors available. With jobs in the construction industry so scarce, it won’t be difficult to find good people — union or non-union — to work on the high schools. Strikes and other work stoppages are also unlikely. And city officials are already looking into other ways of setting goals for hiring local workers.

There’s little need, at least from the city’s perspective, for a project labor agreement, or PLA.

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The city has to protect the interests of taxpayers. Residents can hardly afford to shoulder additional costs from the high school projects as they struggle to make ends meet. Controlling costs is a big part of making sure the renovations go smoothly and it starts with the competitive bidding process. But PLAs, by their very nature, eliminate competition.

“When you eliminate competition, prices go up,” Petro said.

The unions argue that non-union companies are welcome to bid on PLA projects, which is true. But those companies would need to abide by the terms of the agreement, which means they have to rely on the unions to provide most of the workers, all but a few essential supervisors. That makes submitting an accurate bid nearly impossible since the non-union companies will be using workers they’re unfamiliar with. Fringe benefits are also handled differently in union and non-union situations, putting non-union shops at a disadvantage when bidding on PLA projects. This effectively eliminates them from the equation.

Since Meriden happens to have a lot of non-union contractors, that could make it more difficult to meet local hiring goals.

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At any rate, in this climate, the city will be better off handling the school projects through the normal bidding process and with union and non-union contractors ultimately working side by side at Platt and Maloney.

Mr. Cotton is exactly right.  PLAs have a long history of reducing competition, which leads to increased construction costs, and not guaranteeing a local workforce.

PLA mandates also discriminate against the 80 percent of Connecticut’s construction workforce that chooses not to join an union and won’t have the opportunity to fairly compete for projects funded by their own tax dollars.

We urge the Meriden City Council to stand firm against Big Labor’s pressure and say no to PLA requirements on future school construction.

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