According to a press release by the New York City District Council Carpenters Union, hundreds of carpenters union members went on strike Monday—affecting major construction projects around New York City and New Jersey, including some covered by project labor agreements (PLAs).
According to the New York Daily News (“Nailing down a contract: Carpenters’ strike would affect WTC, other construction sites,” 6/30/13):
“The 350 members of Local 2790 voted Thursday night to go out on strike if necessary.
Projects at 4 World Trade Center, the General Motors building on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street and the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle will halt if the workers go on strike, along with many others.”
Local 2790 is upset with the Manufacturing Woodworkers Association of Greater New York (MWA), which negotiates contracts for signatory firms employing union members from various District Council locals.
The work of the striking carpenters includes constructing and installing architectural woodwork and cabinetry, store interiors and fixtures, display and exhibit equipment, and architectural metal products.
Strikes on construction projects subject to PLAs violate provisions contained in typical PLAs that allegedly prevent strikes, walkouts and other labor disputes—calling into question the value of these anti-competitive and costly schemes.
The PLA Hustle
In order to create more jobs for union members and increase the unionized sector’s dwindling market share, union bosses market PLAs to public and private construction owners as a tool to guarantee quality, safety and labor peace on construction projects in exchange for a requirement by owners to exclusively use contractors that agree to be bound by the union-friendly terms and conditions of a PLA.
Big Labor bosses load PLAs with language favorable to union leaders, union members and unionized contractors hand-picked to receive preferential treatment by a PLA.
These agreements typically force contractors to hire all or most of their tradespeople from union hiring halls, pay into union pension and benefit plans, follow inefficient union work rules, and hire apprentices exclusively from union apprenticeship programs. As a condition of working on a PLA project, provisions in typical PLAs also can force nonunion employees to:
- join a union or receive unwanted union representation;
- follow archaic work rules;
- pay union dues and initiation fees; and
- forfeit any employer and employee contributions to union benefit plans unless they join a union and become vested in these plans.
Of course, these provisions discourage competition from qualified nonunion contractors and their skilled employees. Costly union rules and less competition results in increased costs. Research across the country, including a study on the impact of PLAs on school construction in New York, has found PLAs increase the cost of construction between 12 percent and 18 percent compared to similar non-PLA projects.
For years, even Big Labor bosses have admitted that a PLA’s promise to prevent strikes and labor unrest is often broken, resulting in the potential for lost market share for union contractors.
For example, Joseph Hunt, president of the Ironworkers Union, devoted his President’s Page column (“Ironworkers Have Tradition and Honor in Project Labor Agreements“) in the February 2008 edition of The Ironworker to inform the Ironworkers Brotherhood that:
“Once again, it is my duty to inform you there has been an increase in work stoppages on jobs governed by project labor agreements.”
“A No Work Stoppage-No Lock Out clause is the most important because it is the foremost reason owners and contractors are willing to use the agreement [a PLA] to commit to an all-union job.”
“They [owners] have a choice and they know that the non-union do not have jurisdictional disputers nor do they have strikes.”
In the summer of 2011, a strike and walkout by NYC concrete union laborers impacted the following NYC PLA projects: Weill Cornell Medical Center, the Barclays Center at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, Madison Square Garden, World Trade Center Tower 2 and Extell Development’s Carnegie 57 luxury hotel and high-rise project across from Carnegie Hall on West 57th Street.
The Value of PLAs on Display?
The current carpenters strike violates the PLA on the 4 World Trade Center project and other PLA projects in the area.
The 4 World Trade Center jobsite suffered a crane accident in February 2012, and in August 2012 the New York Post reported the Port Authority cracked down on drinking by construction union members following a series of accidents and reports of excessive workday boozing by union tradespeople employed at various World Trade Center construction projects, including 4 World Trade Center (“Construction Union Booze Crews Targeted for Drinking on PLA-Covered Ground Zero Projects,” 9/10/12).
With workplace alcohol abuse, accidents and strikes plaguing the 4 World Trade Center project, clearly this PLA is failing to deliver on its promises.
Is this the value of PLAs on display?
Learn more about PLAs failing to prevent strikes on projects across the country here.