Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit September 23 to stop Westmoreland County from requiring its contractors to execute a project labor agreement with the Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades Council as a condition of winning certain taxpayer-funded public works construction contracts. In addition, the county is requiring contractors to fire any worker on a PLA project who does not join a union affiliated with the Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades Council within eight days of employment, including union workers belonging to a union not represented by the council.
“The intent of the county’s project labor agreement is plain: to prevent the more than 70% of Pennsylvania’s construction workforce who don’t belong to a union from competing to build and work on projects funded by taxpayer dollars, and to drive more dues revenue to one particular group of unions that are politically allied with Democratic county commissioners,” said Pete Gum, president of ABC of Western Pennsylvania. “It’s anti-competitive, it’s unfair, and it’s unconstitutional under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision that prohibits mandatory union dues.”
PLAs drive up the price tag for construction projects. Studies on the effect of government-mandated PLAs on California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Ohio school construction found that PLAs increased the cost of construction by between 12% and 18%. Twenty-five states have outlawed or restricted government-mandated PLAs, thereby ensuring fair and open competition on taxpayer-funded construction projects so the public can get the best possible construction project at the best possible price.
PLAs discriminate against nonunion firms and workers. When mandated by a government entity like Westmoreland County, PLAs typically force builders—union or not—to follow union work rules and hire most or all workers on a jobsite from designated union hiring halls and union apprenticeship programs. That limits the pool of bidders, since nonunion contractors and union contractors that employ workers in unions that do not belong to the Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades Council don’t want to abandon their existing employees and quality control practices—key components of a safe and productive workplace—for strangers from union halls governed by unfamiliar rules.
Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court agreed, ruling that the state Department of Transportation violated state competitive bidding laws and discriminated against qualified local builders and their employees when it forced contractors to execute a PLA with certain government-approved unions on the Route 202/Markley Street road project in Montgomery County.
The court’s ruling will save the public $4.7 million on the Markley Street project, representing nearly a 20% savings. The three lowest bidders on the job were all effectively precluded from bidding under the original bid solicitation containing a PLA. After the lowest bidder withdrew, the plaintiff low bidder and was awarded the work for $23.9 million.
The Westmoreland County PLA compels nonunion and union construction workers to join a specific union as a condition of employment on a taxpayer-funded construction project, a clear violation of their First Amendment rights under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
“The county’s project labor agreement violates the rights of contractors and their employees under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the National Labor Relations Act. It also violates state competitive bidding laws. The plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief against its continued enforcement,” according to the complaint.
Additional plaintiffs in the suit are Alex E. Paris Contracting Company Inc., Westmoreland Electric Services LLC, Lawrence Plumbing LLC, David R. Smith, Kirtus L. Rumbaugh, Joseph L. Corn and Keith Impink. They represent the interests of employers and employees who choose not to join a union, as well as employees who belong to a union that does not belong to the Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades Council, all of whom are ineligible to perform work on the County of Westmoreland’s construction projects in excess of $150,000. They are also asserting the rights of county taxpayers injured by the awarding of projects to someone other than the lowest bidder.
The lawsuit has received coverage from the following news sources:
- Project Labor Agreement Face Legal Challenge in Pennsylvania (Bloomberg Law, 9/23/19)
- Westmoreland County sued over requirement that union workers complete major projects (The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/24/19)
- Contractors trade group challenges union participation in public projects (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/24/19)
- Contractors file lawsuit over Westmoreland’s project labor agreement (Herald-Standard, 9/23/19)
Check back for additional developments and coverage.