Lawsuit Flushes Project Labor Agreement Scheme on Massachusetts Wastewater Facility

0 May 24, 2024  Featured, State & Local Construction

ABC’s Massachusetts chapter and a coalition of local merit shop contractors successfully blocked the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission’s scheme for a project labor agreement mandate on a $325 million water filtration plant.

“Notwithstanding the lip service the PLA pays to being open to all bidders, it most assuredly is not,” wrote Hampden Superior Court Judge Michael K. Callan in the decision to issue a preliminary injunction against the PLA. “The evidence before the court is that the PLA poses such a significant disadvantage to open shops as to render a competitive bid impossible. For all intents and purposes, the PLA excludes open shops from bidding, as it essentially requires bidders to execute an agreement to use union laborers on the Project.”

“This ruling makes it clear that PLAs discriminate against open shop contractors and reduce competitive bidding,” said ABC Massachusetts President Greg Beeman. “This is a great victory for open competition that benefits our members and the taxpaying public.”

U.S. Senators Edwards and Warren from Massachusetts lauded the PLA in a March press release issued at the request of construction union lobbyists and donors.

The PLA scheme was subsequently blasted in the local media for it’s blatant cronyism.

MassLive commended the decision in an editorial:

“Kudos to Hampden Superior Court Judge Michael K. Callan for dismantling the flimsy excuses used by the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission to justify using an anti-competitive ‘project labor agreement’ on its $256 million West Parish Water Treatment Plant upgrade.

“The commission’s own consultant, the engineering firm of Hazen and Sawyer, had provided a written report in November that adding a PLA to the project would increase the cost of roughly $15.5 million.

“Judge Callan found that this report had been ‘buried’ and that, instead, the commission board, which voted 2-1 in January to impose the PLA, had been influenced by ‘extensive lobbying efforts’ by union representatives.”

“As we noted in an April 11 editorial, the events leading to the 2-1 vote in favor of the PLA smacked of favoritism. That is obviously not the proper province of commissioners. Their role under public bidding law is to obtain the best possible price for taxpayers, not to cozy up to powerful special interests.”

“Judge Callan also did not buy the commission’s claim that a PLA was necessary to assure labor harmony (no strikes) during the project. The judge reasoned that mere “fear” of such a work stoppage is not enough to justify a PLA because “there is a complete absence of evidence” about this project being derailed by labor unrest.”

Update: The Boston Globe’s May 28 editorial, Project Labor Agreements Are Bad Policy, hits the nail on the head:

“Thus there really is no strong policy argument for imposing a PLA. Further, it is unfair to the many Massachusetts construction workers who are not union members. It means that those workers are paying taxes to help fund projects that PLAs would exclude them from working on.

As a result of Callan’s ruling, the water and sewer commission has decided to move forward with the project without a PLA.

That’s good news. But honestly, this whole exercise was a waste of judicial time. In the future, when faced with union lobbying for PLAs, elected officials and public decisionmakers should cite Callan’s lucid ruling on the matter and say a firm and emphatic no.

Why, they might even want to quote the judge, who pithily summed things up this way: “The public benefits from an open, fair, competitive, and robust bidding process. The PLA requirement unnecessarily curtails that without legal justification.”

Next Steps

The project is expected to create as many as 500 jobs in all trades. The commission extended the deadline for general contractors to bid on the project by nine days, until June 13. The tight bidding timeline may may pose problems for firms who initially were unable bid on the project because of the PLA.

The unions who benefit from the failed PLA scheme have already filed an appeal to reverse the ruling.

“This legal decision is a win for ratepayers and it’s refreshing to see the legal system and the media see anti-competitive and costly government-mandated PLAs for what they really are,” said ABC Vice President of Regulatory, Labor and State Affairs Ben Brubeck. “We are hopeful that the judge in ABC’s critical lawsuit against the Biden administration’s outrageous push for PLAs on all federal construction projects of $35 million or more will have a similar perspective and rule in favor of taxpayers and fair and open competition.”

ABC’s Lawsuit Against Biden’s Federal PLA Policy Progresses

ABC and its Florida First Coast chapter filed a lawsuit in federal court on March 28 to stop the Biden administration’s unlawful scheme to mandate project labor agreements on construction contracts procured by federal agencies. ABC’s complaint asserts that President Joe Biden lacks the legal and constitutional authority to impose a new federal regulation injuring economy and efficiency in federal contracting and illegally steering construction contracts to certain unionized contractors, which employ roughly 10% of the U.S. construction workforce.

“ABC has heard from large and small federal contractors—including firms signatory to union agreements—and concerned federal agency contracting officers that the Biden administration’s controversial PLA policy has already stifled competition and raised costs on federal construction contracts in Florida and across the country, said Ben Brubeck, ABC vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs, in a news release about the lawsuit.” This policy will continue to do so absent a successful legal challenge.”

On Friday, the U.S. Justice Department filed a brief in response to ABC’s April 26 motion for a preliminary injunction. A date for a hearing and oral arguments has not yet been set.

For more information on ABC’s campaign to push back on federal, state and local PLA mandates with other construction industry stakeholders, visit

About Government-Mandated Project Labor Agreements

PLA mandates rig the bidding process to discourage experienced nonunion and some union contractors and their qualified workforce from competing to build transformational taxpayer-funded projects. And they deny good-paying, local jobs to the more than a record 89% of U.S. construction industry workers who do not affiliate with unions, which exacerbates the construction industry’s skilled labor shortage of more than 500,000 in 2024.


Problematic terms in government-mandated PLAs discourage competition by forcing contractors to:

  • Use union hiring halls to obtain most or all workers instead of their existing workforce;
  • Obtain apprentices exclusively from union apprenticeship programs.
  • Follow inefficient union work rules;
  • Pay into union benefits and multiemployer pension plans that the few nonunion employees permitted on the project will be unlikely to access unless they join a union and vest in these plans; and
  • Require their existing workforce to accept union representation, pay union dues and/or join a union as a condition of employment and receiving benefits on a PLA jobsite, resulting in an estimated 34% of wage theft from the paychecks of nonunion craft professionals on PLA projects.

Potential PLA mandates on taxpayer-funded contracts expose officials to intense political pressure, as construction unions raise and spend millions of dollars to help elect lawmakers willing to pass policies that grant donors a monopoly on public works construction projects.

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