Construction union bosses in Juneau, Alaska, want all publicly funded projects to be subject to wasteful and discriminatory project labor agreement (PLA) mandates, and they are not shy about voicing their objections when someone ignores their demands and allows fair and open competition for public projects, as did Juneau Port Director Carl Uchytil.
The Associated Press reported in early October that Uchytil decided not to require a PLA mandate on an upcoming $54 million construction project for two floating ship berths, because he determined it would not be appropriate for the project. Although that is well within Uchytil’s rights as the port director, President of the Juneau Central Labor Council Pete Ford strongly opposed the decision, in part because not using a PLA mandate sets a bad precedent for future public projects.
Clearly, Big Labor bosses don’t want to see a project without a PLA mandate succeed.
In an attempt to prevent that from happening, construction labor bosses quickly engaged their friends on the Juneau Assembly to protect their near monopoly on city and Borough of Juneau (CBJ) projects. On Oct. 14, the Assembly confirmed their 2008 policy encouraging the use of PLA mandates on CBJ projects. In other words, the Assembly, backed by Big Labor, is trying to bully Juneau Docks and Harbors into using a PLA on the construction of the floating births, despite the port director’s assessment that it’s not necessary.
In addition, there was a particularly troubling item in KTOO’s coverage of the Assembly’s Oct. 14 meeting:
(Assemblyman Randy) Wanamaker, who chairs the Assembly’s Public Works and Facilities Committee, says he’ll soon begin work to standardize the city’s PLA review process. Right now it’s up to individual department heads to decide whether a project needs a labor agreement. Wanamaker believes a committee should do that analysis instead.
“So that we provide a group reviewing, rather than one person, where arbitrariness or misunderstanding may occur,” Wanamaker said.
The Assembly has asked City Attorney Amy Mead to come up with a draft review process. Courts have upheld the use of Project Labor Agreements by government entities, as long as they can justify a strong public interest.
While it is clear the Juneau Assembly is willing to do the bidding of construction labor bosses, we strongly encourage the people of Juneau to learn more about the negative impacts of PLA mandates on the construction industry in your community and Juneau’s local budget.
It also will be critical for supporters of open competition and taxpayer value on public construction projects to monitor this review closely. The current policy allows CBJ officials to use discretion when determining whether it is appropriate to require PLAs. In this case, an official used their discretion and it started a political firestorm.
In the meantime, merit shop contractors are ready and willing to perform this work if it remains free of PLA mandates. Here is an excerpt from KTOO’s coverage on Oct. 20:
Trucano Construction has done a number of Juneau dock projects, including the drive down float at Auke Bay, reconstruction of Harris Harbor, and decking along the downtown waterfront. Owner Doug Trucano says his company has the only marine construction complex in town, located on North Douglas waterfront property he leases from city’s Docks and Harbors Department.
“We can bring our barges in here, we can load our cranes, and do our work,” Trucano says. “Nobody else in Juneau has ever pursued that.”
Trucano runs a non-union shop. He says it’s a personal choice and he has nothing against unions.
Trucano isn’t the only one frustrated with the city. Anchor Electric owner Bill Shattenberg said in an email that “PLAs are a way for unions to narrow competition on bid day and bolster their local retirement plans.”
That echoes Trucano’s major concern that his employees will be forced to join a union in order to work on a PLA project.
“First your employees have to join the union, then you got to buy the medical insurance, which we’re seldom ever there long enough for anybody to capitalize on it, you got to pay in their pension funds, you got to pay into their apprenticeship programs and all that,” Trucano says. “Where, I pay the same wages, the same dollar amount, but my employees get to take all that home with them.”
Trucano and Shattenberg also say there’s no evidence to support the claims of PLA supporters that the agreements improve work quality, on-time performance, local hire, and the use of apprentices. Both say they’re unlikely to bid on any project that includes a PLA.
While we respect the rights of local government entities to control their own affairs, that shouldn’t give them a blank check to waste taxpayer dollars on handouts to organized labor. As supporters of free and open competition on publicly funded construction projects, we encourage Gov. Sean Parnell (R) and legislative leaders to consider joining the 18 other states that have banned government-mandated PLAs to some degree on state and local construction projects.