Jersey City residents are upset jobs on construction projects subject to government-mandated project labor agreements (PLAs) are not going to local minority residents, despite promises made by unions and lawmakers promoting PLAs.
A video, Jersey City Need Not Apply, released last week by the Jersey City Political Action Committee (JCPAC), documents how Jersey City policies promoting government-mandated PLAs have served as a barrier to new jobs for local minority residents and contractors in Jersey City.
In April 2012, the City of Jersey City Council passed Ordinance No. 12-051, amending existing pro-PLA city code in place since June 2007 (Jersey City Ordinance No. 07-123), requiring developers and contractors to execute union-favoring PLAs on certain tax-abated projects in Jersey City. In addition, local lawmakers have required PLAs on other city projects. These policies force contractors on PLA jobsites to use union hiring halls to obtain unionized construction workers instead of hiring existing employees or finding craft professionals from other sources.
PLA proponents generally argue governments should require the use of PLAs because they are a tool public officials can use to ensure jobs for the local construction workforce and inclusion of minority and small business contractors on projects. Union business managers claim PLAs result in “the development of additional opportunities for local residents — particularly military veterans, women and minorities — to gain access to career training opportunities in the skilled trades.”
But numerous construction unions designated in Jersey City PLAs have not been placing qualified local residents on Jersey City jobs, according to a local minority construction worker and a minority business community spokesperson interviewed in the JCPAC video.
Steven Mays, a former member of IBEW Local 164 and African-American Jersey City resident, said the IBEW Local 164 sent him to jobs all over the state but not to local projects in his hometown. Mays complained to union officials and lawmakers about the PLA locking out local residents from new jobs in Jersey City. In response, he was harassed by union bosses and eventually was kicked out of the union.
“From what I have seen on Jersey City construction sites, the only jobs being made available to locals and minorities are the laborers jobs,” said Mays. “The higher paying and higher skilled jobs are just not available.”
John Harmon, president of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, also explained how PLAs have failed to deliver on promises made to the local and minority contracting community.
“From my personal experience and the research I have seen, PLAs have had no favorable impact on employment and contracts for minorities and women in construction,” said Harmon.
Harmon explains why the Jersey City residents are locked out of local taxpayer-funded contracts, and need to hold unions and elected officials accountable:
“In most urban cities in New Jersey, the elected Democratic officials’ campaigns are overwhelmingly funded by unions who promote project labor agreements under the pretense that they will create jobs and contracts for minority and women. But in reality, the real winners are the elected official and the unions. No jobs, no contracts for minorities and women.”
PLAs Are Not a Solution to Minority and Local Hire
Unions entice the public into accepting anti-competitive and discriminatory PLAs under the guise they will create local jobs for minority and local workers and businesses. But union members are not necessarily local or diverse.
Unfortunately, members of the local and minority contracting community in Seattle, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, New York City, New Bedford, Conn., Detroit, Des Moines, Las Vegas, Santa Fe, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oakland have made similar complaints recently about government-mandated PLAs failing to deliver jobs for local and minority contractors and construction workers, despite promises by pro-PLA lawmakers and unions.
The public record of poor performance of PLAs demonstrates promises of local hiring and minority inclusion are not consistently met, which is not surprising, especially when more than eight out of 10 U.S. construction workers are not unionized and the vast majority of minority contractors are not unionized.
Unions entice the public into accepting anti-competitive and discriminatory PLAs by promising to create local jobs for minority and local workers and businesses. However, the truth is local hire can only be achieved by ensuring all construction workers and contractors, regardless of union affiliation, are not burdened by union-favoring PLAs. If lawmakers want to require local and minority worker and contractor participation, they should remove unions from the equation and pass fair laws controlling which qualified workers and contractors can participate on taxpayer-funded construction contracts.
Lawmakers can help all stakeholders instead of special interests by building safe and quality projects on-time and under-budget if they pass on PLA mandates.
Update June 2017: In June 15, 2017, the U. S. District Court for the District of New Jersey found that this 2007 Jersey City ordinance requiring project labor agreements (PLAs) on private projects receiving tax abatements is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Learn more here.