On Thursday, June 19, the Berks County, Pa., Commission passed an ordinance that prohibits the county from requiring contractors to enter into a wasteful and discriminatory project labor agreement (PLA) as a condition of performing work on public construction projects. Additionally, this ordinance prohibits the county from providing financial support for projects subject to PLA mandates.
Berks County joins the 21 states and numerous local government entities, including two others in Pennsylvania (Lancaster County, Pa. and Westmoreland County, Pa.), which have enacted restrictions on the use of PLA mandates. The state and local leaders who adopted these measures understand the negative impact PLA mandates have on taxpayers and the vast majority of the construction workforce that chooses not to join a labor union.
While Berks County leaders do not have a history of requiring PLAs on county projects, this ordinance sends a strong message to Reading, Pa., where leaders are considering a city ordinance that would mandate the use of PLAs on all city projects costing more than $5 million.
Because Reading is inside Berks County, if Reading leaders adopt a PLA requirement for city projects, they risk losing county funding for projects subject to the mandate. That would be a clear sign to local taxpayers that Reading’s leaders care more about pleasing construction union bosses than getting county support for local projects, which would ultimately force city taxpayers to carry a heavier burden.
Union leaders told local media outlets that they are considering litigation in response to this ordinance. I would remind those union officials that two federal circuit courts of appeals have upheld the rights of government entities to set their own procurement policies as participants in the construction marketplace. The case law is clear—public entities have the authority to guarantee neutrality with regard to the use of PLAs in procurement.