There was an important story for taxpayers in Cumberland County, New Jersey last week, where freeholders voted to rescind a wasteful and discriminatory project labor agreement (PLA) requirement for an upcoming project that would transform the Vine Street School into a new home for the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s office.
Here are the highlights from The News of Cumberland County’s July 25 story:
With a board room packed with both union and non-union contractors and representatives gazing upon freeholders, Kirstein stressed that the decision to nix the PLA was not out of any anti-union sentiment.
He stressed that the county will still have to pay “prevailing” — or union — wages as per state law whether or not the contractor hires organized labor.
“We just want to keep everything fair to everyone,” said the freeholder director. “The union leaders are right to come out here tonight and represent their workers, but we have to represent the people of the county as a whole, and we have to make sure we do right by everybody.”
John Young, a business agent for a carpenters union representing Cumberland County workers, questioned how the resolution negating the PLA would save the county money.
“How could it be cheaper? You said it would be cheaper,” he said. “You still have to pay prevailing wage, so why do this?”
In response, Sheppard argued that the PLA puts unfair restrictions on non-union contractors, leading them to not bid at all.
“The less people bid, the more expensive the project will be,” said Sheppard. “This way, more people will bid, and it will save the county money.”
Freeholder Sheppard has it exactly right. There is no question that PLA mandates reduce competition from nonunion contractors and this leads to higher construction costs.
The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development has studied the impact of PLA mandates on construction costs each year since the state enacted legislation that authorizes the use of PLA mandates on public projects in 2002.
The October 2010 report for FY2008 stated: “School projects that used a PLA tended to have higher building costs, as measured on a per square footage and per student basis, than those that do not use a PLA.”
The report went on to indicate that the indexed cost per square foot for all PLA projects was 30.5 percent higher than for all non-PLA projects studied in the report.
It is important to also note that the department started producing reports on PLA activity in 2005 and the results have been consistent for both Democrat and Republican administrations.
Obviously, this is a big win for vast majority of the New Jersey construction workforce that chooses not to join a labor organization, and the people of Cumberland County. We applaud the Cumberland County freeholders for having the courage to stand up for taxpayers in their community.