Project Labor Agreement on Iowa State Penitentiary Fails to Fulfill Local Hiring Promises

0 October 16, 2013  Featured, State & Local Construction, Transportation & Infrastructure

The Des Moines Register reported the $132 million Iowa State Penitentiary project in Fort Madison, Iowa, has created jobs for a large number of out-of-state union workers, despite promises by advocates of project labor agreements (PLAs) that these union-favoring pacts create jobs primarily for Iowa’s taxpayers and construction workforce (“Many prison project jobs went to non-Iowans,” 10/12/13):

“When Gov. Chet Culver broke ground on a new $132 million state prison in Fort Madison in April 2010, it was billed as a way to provide 300 to 400 good-paying construction jobs in southeast Iowa.

But as completion nears on the 800-bed Iowa State Penitentiary project, data obtained by The Des Moines Register show that nearly half of those jobs — paid for by Iowa taxpayers — went to workers from Illinois, Missouri and other states. [snip]

The Register found that of the 888,691 contractor hours worked on the project, just 476,001 hours — or about 53 percent of the work — was done by Iowa construction workers. The new prison is tentatively set to open in March, and most of the major construction is finished. [snip]

Rebecca Bowker, executive officer at the Iowa State Penitentiary, said Iowa union shops sent as many workers as they could to the Fort Madison project, but it was not enough to keep up with demand. “It was my understanding there were other projects competing for the same union workers,” she said in an email. [snip]

A project labor agreement approved by the Culver administration for the Fort Madison project called for construction trades workers to be hired through 18 union halls, including 12 in Iowa, five in Illinois and one in Kansas City, Kan. Several union leaders and a union lawyer said at the time the agreement was reached that it’s common for union halls to have cross-state jurisdiction, and they didn’t believe the use of out-of-state hiring halls would reduce the number of Iowans working on the prison project.”

Great investigative journalism, DMR.  If only more members of the media held unions and politicians making impossible promises accountable.

State Penitentiary

In September 2010, warned this PLA would not produce many local jobs.

An article in The Des Moines Register  highlighted the fact PLAs can’t guarantee local hiring because numerous unions signatory to the prison PLA have hiring halls that are physically located in Illinois (“Prison labor accord to use Illinois halls, 9/22/10):

“Several union leaders and a union lawyer said Tuesday said that it’s common for union halls to have cross-state jurisdiction…

“I think it will be predominantly Iowans, heavily Iowans,” said Bill Gerhard, president of the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council.

“But because the prison will be built on Iowa’s border, it’s likely that some Illinois and Missouri construction workers will be employed on the project,” he added.”

That means Illinois union members who are dispatched out of union hiring halls (regardless of where the hiring hall is located) will have preference over union construction workers from Iowa as well as nonunion construction workers from Iowa. Union hiring hall rules and collective bargaining agreements typically specify that employees at the top of the hiring hall out-of-work list are dispatched to jobsites first, regardless of their place of residency. A PLA typically cannot change this fundamental rule of union hiring halls.

The truth is government-mandated PLAs have failed to deliver on their local hiring promises in Manchester, N.H., Bedford, Mass., New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C.DetroitLas Vegas, San Diego and San Francisco in the past four years. Why would Iowa be any different?

Despite this dismal record of poor performance, in December 2010, former Iowa Gov. Culver (D) touted the ability of PLAs to create local jobs:

Iowa quote 2

Gov. Culver’s support of government-mandated PLAs in Iowa, where just 13.7 percent of the state construction workforce belongs to a union, is one of the reasons why Gov. Branstad (R) defeated him in the 2010 election and instituted a policy of government neutrality on the use of PLAs, which the unions unsuccessfully challenged in the courts.

The construction trade unions are embarrassed by their failure to create jobs for Iowa taxpayers and are in full damage control mode:

Ryan Drew of Burlington, president of the Southeast Iowa Building and Construction Trades Council, said that in analyzing the workforce on the Fort Madison project, it’s important to recognize the community is on the Iowa-Illinois border. Many Illinois construction trades workers hired for the project reside just across the Mississippi River from Fort Madison and shop at Iowa retailers, so their employment has been positive for Iowa, he said.

Under the project labor agreement, the contractor and subcontractors were allowed to bring in 50 percent of their workforce as “core employees” to the Fort Madison job site, Drew said. That included out-of-state employers who brought in their own workers.

“That is the thing with these big projects. These general contractors that bond and handle $130 million-scope projects deal with contractors all over the United States and pull them in,” Drew said. The project labor agreement was crafted for Iowa — a right-to-work state — to permit contractors to bring in certain core employees who were union or non-union, he added.

It is amusing how union spin doctors defend their local hire shortcomings by parroting the very arguments they use to attack contractors unwilling to sign PLAs, which typically force contractors to hire most or all of their craft professionals 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 reduced competition and archaic and inefficient union rules increase the cost of construction projects subject to PLAs between 12 percent and 18 percent, on average.

And of course, there is little evidence suggesting nonunion contractors and nonunion workers participated on this Iowa project, despite the remarks by PLA advocates.

Here is a copy of the Ft. Madison prison PLA and appendices.

Full article after the jump.

This post was written by and tagged Tags:, , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *