Last month, a slab of concrete tragically killed a construction worker operating a backhoe during the demolition phase of construction on the future site of the $63 million St. Paul Saints ballpark, according to the St. Paul Tribune (“Falling concrete kills worker at new St. Paul ballpark site,” 9/11/13):
Valek was an employee of Rachel Contracting of St. Michael, Minn., a subcontractor of Ryan Companies that was doing excavation work. Excavation began in July at the site and was slated to last four months. [snip]
Harry Melander, president of the St. Paul Building and Construction Trades Council, also visited the worksite Tuesday. “It’s always a sad day when we lose one of our family members,” he said.
Investigators with Minnesota OSHA on Tuesday began reviewing factors that might have caused or contributed to the accident and whether state safety standards had been violated, spokesman James Honerman said.
In the past five years, Rachel Contracting was inspected once, in July 2010, and no citations were issued, Honerman said. Ryan has been inspected numerous times in the last five years, but OSHA records show that no safety violations were found.
While OSHA has not produced any answers about the accident, the project was subject to a controversial project labor agreement (PLA) mandated by the City of St. Paul in May 2013. A 2009 city council resolution requires St. Paul to consider such a PLA when it spends more than $250,000 on a building project, despite the fact that 73.7 percent of Minnesota’s construction workforce does not belong to a union.
The new Vikings Stadium is also subject to a PLA, despite a record of problems on stadiums and arenas subject to PLAs across the country.
PLAs typically force contractors to hire most or all of their craft employees from union hiring halls; follow inefficient union work rules; hire apprentices exclusively from union apprenticeship programs; and pay into union benefit plans on behalf of employees, even if they have their own qualified benefit programs. PLAs force employees to pay union dues, accept unwanted union representation, and forfeit benefits earned during the life of a PLA project unless they join a union and become vested in union benefit plans.
In short, PLAs discourage or eliminate merit shop contractors from competing for and winning contracts on construction projects because they are almost always awarded exclusively to unionized contractors and their all-union workforces. Research has found less competition and archaic and inefficient union rules increase the cost of construction projects subject to PLAs between 12 percent and 18 percent, on average.
PLA advocates–predominantly unionized contractors, construction trade union officials and their members benefiting from job creation via PLAs–claim these monopolistic union-friendly schemes ensure a safe jobsite. By forcing contractors to hire construction workers dispatched through union hiring halls as a condition of winning a contract to perform work on a PLA project, special interests argue PLA projects are safer because they are built with union labor.
In reality, there is no compelling or conclusive private or government evidence to support the myth that an all-union workforce, and/or a workforce operating under a PLA, will have better safety outcomes or a higher rate of compliance with federal safety laws and regulations than jobsites not subject to a PLA.
As this tragedy demonstrates, construction is a dangerous industry regardless of whether a worker belongs to a union or if a PLA is used on a project. All firms and hardhats need to make jobsite safety a priority.