A battle is brewing between the merit shop contracting community and construction labor unions in Charles County, Maryland, the latest locality in the Mid-Atlantic region to entertain legislation requiring anti-competitive and costly government-mandated project labor agreements (PLAs) on taxpayer-funded construction projects.
On Oct.2, the Charles County commissioners invited representatives from construction trade unions and the local contracting community to a roundtable discussion exploring the use of union-favoring PLAs on publicly funded construction contracts procured by Charles County to evaluate if they would improve local economic development.
See coverage of the roundtable by The Maryland Independent (Unions, contractors at odds on project labor agreements, 10/4/13 pdf ) or video of the event for full details.
A Nov. 1 op-ed in The Maryland Independent (Union labor agreements drive up taxpayer costs, 11/01/13 pdf) signed by a variety of contracting groups tells Charles County residents the truth about the threat of PLAs and pro-PLA legislation:
On Oct. 2, the Charles County commissioners invited representatives from construction trade unions and the local contracting community to a roundtable discussion exploring the use of union-favoring project labor agreements on publicly funded construction contracts procured by Charles County to evaluate if they would improve local economic development.
County taxpayers should be concerned because this is the first step in a well-orchestrated plan among commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly, some commissioners and construction union lobbyists to steer taxpayer-funded contracts to unionized contractors and create construction jobs almost exclusively for unionized construction workers, at the expense of everyone else.
Today, only 13.2 percent of the U.S. construction workforce belongs to a union, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Membership is even lower in Maryland, where 89.2 percent of the construction workforce does not belong to a union.
As a result, construction trade unions have turned to their friends in government to mandate PLAs on public projects to help regain lost market share and increase union membership.
Union lobbyists contend PLAs — master collective bargaining agreements with multiple construction unions governing a construction project — are a tool to prevent union strikes, ensure the use of local labor and deliver Charles County projects on time and on budget.
But the truth is these goals already have been achieved without PLAs. PLAs contain anti-competitive and costly terms and conditions that favor union interests and hurt the county’s construction industry and taxpayers.
While all contractors technically are free to bid on construction contracts subject to a government-mandated PLA, the terms of a PLA require contractors to replace most or all of their existing employees with union members dispatched from union hiring halls, use apprentices exclusively from union training programs, follow inefficient union work rules and pay into union benefits plans even if firms have existing benefits plans.
Additionally, nonunion tradespeople are forced to pay union dues, and they forfeit benefits earned during the life of the project unless they join a union and become vested in union benefit programs.
Qualified local businesses and construction professionals can’t win a contract and work on a job site unless they agree to the union terms. It’s no surprise such red tape and discrimination discourages competition from experienced merit shop firms and well-trained nonunion craft professionals in Maryland.
Fewer bidders, coupled with costly and restrictive provisions in PLAs, needlessly increase construction costs. Academic studies by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University found school projects subject to PLAs were 12 percent to 18 percent more expensive than projects not subject to PLAs, even when both sets of data were subject to prevailing wage requirements.
Can Charles County really afford four schools, roads and water projects for the price of five? Are the taxpayers willing to forego construction of another school, road improvement or infrastructure upgrade simply because of a PLA mandate?
Increasing costs, chilling competition, placing barriers to new jobs for qualified county residents and rewarding well-connected special interests with government contracts is no recipe for economic development in Charles County.
Concerned taxpayers should contact the commissioners and urge them to proceed with procuring construction contracts free from costly PLA mandates and in the spirit of fair and open competition.
Doing so will help county lawmakers keep jobs local and provide taxpayers with the best possible construction product at the best possible price.
– Thomas Kingston, Chris Garvey, Debra Schoonmaker, Mike Henderson, Will Seilhamer, James A. Russ and Tom Evans, Annapolis
The writers are, respectively, a member of the Associated Builders and Contractors Maryland Joint Legislative Committee, chairman of ABC Chesapeake Shores chapter, president of ABC Metropolitan Washington chapter, president of ABC Baltimore chapter, president of ABC Cumberland Valley chapter, president of Maryland Transportation Builders and Materials Association and executive director of Maryland Ready Mix Concrete Association.
Readers and taxpayers can contact Charles County Commissioners in opposition to any possible pro-PLA legislation. Encourage the CCC to procure construction contracts in the spirit of fair and open competition.
President Candice Quinn Kelly: KellyC@CharlesCounty.org
Vice President Reuben B. Collins II: CollinsR@CharlesCounty.org
District 1 Commissioner Ken Robinson: RobinsonK@CharlesCounty.org
District 2 Commissioner Debra M. Davis, Esq.: DavisD@CharlesCounty.org
District 4 Commissioner Bobby Rucci: BRucci@CharlesCounty.org
or @CharlesCoMD #SpeakOutCharles on Twitter
The push for PLAs seems to be coming from Charles County President Candice Quinn Kelly, who cozied up with a pair of union bosses (Chuck Graham, IBEW Local 26 business manager, in this video, and Vance Ayers, the executive secretary and treasurer of the Washington, D.C., Building Trades. DC Building Trades, in this video) to tout the alleged benefits of PLAs and union labor in an effort to set the table for the passage of pro-PLA legislation.
TheTruthAboutPLAs.com has seen this scenario play out before at the local level. Whenever a local politician suddenly gets chummy with labor, it means they will run for higher office and are placing an implicit request for labor’s help getting elected later in exchange for union favors now.
Check back for updates and reactions to this op-ed.
A series of pieces for and against PLAs and unions have since been published in the Maryland Independent here.
The Charles County Commission has some new board members following the June elections. Del. Peter Murphy left his position in Annapolis for the CCC board and defeated Reuben Collins for CCC President. Amanda Stewart filed Collins’ vacation District III seat. Kelly lost her June 24 primary for the Maryland House of Delegates District 28 seat, previously held by Del. Murphy.