The New York Post published an op-ed by ABC Empire State Chapter President Brian Sampson (“How union construction privileges bleed taxpayers dry,” 6/8), blasting New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) for his outrageous promise to union bosses and members at the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York’s May 8th rally as part of its “Count Me In” campaign attacking open shop developers, conractors and wokers in the big apple.
Cuomo’s bold election-year pledge should remind voters that New York’s costly policies promoting government-mandated project labor agreements (PLAs) will continue for another four years should he win his re-election in November. With nearly three out of four New York construction workers choosing not to belong to a union, it is dissappointing to see such blantant discrimination and special interest influence on display.
Check out the piece:
At a recent campaign rally, Gov. Andrew Cuomo renewed his promise to New York City construction-union bosses and members, who just so happen to be among his biggest backers: “There will never be a state project that isn’t built with union labor” while he’s governor.
Sadly, this pay-to-play set up, where elected officials protect laws that help unions in exchange for their political and financial support, has long held an iron grip on taxpayer-funded construction projects in New York and driven their price tags through the roof.
The Empire State isn’t alone. Schemes to funnel public projects to unionized contractors and union labor, known as government-mandated project labor agreements (PLAs), needlessly boost construction costs and prevent Americans across the nation from building their communities.
PLAs typically force contractors to recognize unions as the representatives of their employees; use the union hiring hall; hire union apprentices; follow union work rules and pay into union benefit and multi-employer pension plans. Employers also must pay “double benefits” into existing plans and union plans, putting them at a significant competitive disadvantage.
PLAs also typically force construction workers to pay union dues and/or join a union if they want to receive union benefits and work on a PLA project.
Such sweetheart deals are extremely costly to taxpayers because they eliminate competition from nonunion contractors and their employees, who comprise 86 percent of the US private-construction workforce. Multiple studies of taxpayer-funded school-construction projects, from California to the Northeast, have found that PLA mandates jack up the cost of construction by 12 percent to 18 percent.
Under President Barack Obama, the Department of Labor imposed a PLA on a planned Job Corps center in New Hampshire, but it was removed after a local contractor filed a legal action against it. The result: Three times as many bids came in, at prices as much as 16 percent lower — saving taxpayers $6 million. And the job, done by a local contractor, came in on time and on budget.
Meanwhile, the demand for new projects is higher than ever, even as the industry faces a skilled-labor shortage of 500,000 workers. Associated Builders and Contractors’ Construction Backlog Indicator, which reflects the amount of construction work under contract but not yet completed, expanded to 9.67 months during the fourth quarter of 2017, its highest level ever and a 2.25 percent increase from the prior quarter.
Now factor a potential federal infrastructure bill and $1 trillion worth of construction spending into the equation, and the industry could need to fill an additional 1 million jobs as early as 2020. Amid this workforce shortage, it makes no sense to continue pushing PLAs, which artificially restrict the vast majority of skilled American labor and qualified contractors from competing to deliver the best possible product at the best possible price.
For Cuomo and New Yorkers, PLAs are likely to remain because of a pro-PLA policy in place since the Pataki administration and the unhealthy, symbiotic relationship between unions and lawmakers.
But President Trump has an opportunity to champion free markets and build on the positive economic ripple effects from his tax and regulatory reforms. His next step could be to rescind an executive order by Obama that encourages anti-competitive and costly PLAs on federal and federally assisted construction contracts.
Trump should replace that with a new order banning PLAs on all federally assisted contracts for public-works projects. Such a move is permitted by the National Labor Relations Act and has been used by past administrations.
A total of 24 states have similar rules to ensure that the free market — and not government — determines prices to complete a project safely, on time, on budget and with the best-trained workforce.
Such an order would curb pay-to-play politics and level the playing field for taxpayer-funded construction contracts through the magic of competition. It would also help small businesses grow and spread their job-creating benefits more fairly throughout the entire construction industry.
Making America’s infrastructure great again begins with fair and open competition and new opportunities and career pathways for the entire US construction workforce.
As a former builder, Trump surely knows that.
Brian Sampson is president of the Empire State chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors.