The Truth About PLAs

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Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) are government mandated, Union-only special interest schemes that end open, fair and competitive bidding on taxpayer-funded construction projects.

PLAs discourage or eliminate merit shop contractors from competing for and winning contracts for construction projects. Construction contracts subject to PLAs are almost always awarded exclusively to unionized contractors and their all-union workforces.  Less competition and archaic and inefficient union rules increase the cost of construction projects subject to PLAs.

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 14 percent of the 2017 U.S. private construction workforce belonged to a union.

  • PLAs require non-union companies to obtain their workers from union hiring halls. Companies must therefore use unfamiliar workers on specific jobsites instead of their own skilled and experienced employees.
  • Employees who have chosen not to join the Union often have to pay union dues and fees or join a union to work on a PLA project.
  • Despite the fact contractors have their own benefits plans, PLAs require merit shop contractors to pay their workers’ health and retirement benefits to union benefit and pension funds. Thus, companies must pay benefits twice: once to the union and once to the company plan. Nonunion employees never see any of the benefits from contributions sent to union plans unless they decide to join a union and remain with the union until vested.
  • Paying into underfunded and mismanaged union pension plans can expose merit shop contractors to significant pension withdrawal liabilities.  Signing a PLA and exposing a company to pension liabilities could bankrupt a contractor or prohibit contractors from qualifying for construction bondsneeded to build future projects.
  • PLAs require merit shop companies to obtain apprenticesexclusively from union apprenticeship programs. Participants in federal and state-approved nonunion apprenticeship programs cannot work on a job covered by a PLA. This means craft professionals enrolled in apprenticeship programs other than those offered by a union are excluded from work in their hometowns.

PLAs drive up the cost of construction projects. By unnecessarily limiting bidders and following outdated and inefficient union work rules, PLAs consistently and unnecessarily drive up costs on projects. PLAs increase the cost of construction between 12 percent and 18 percent when compared to similar projects not subject to union-only PLAs.

PLAs discriminate against merit shop contractors and disadvantaged businesses. This discrimination is particularly harmful to women- and minority-owned construction businesses—whose workers traditionally have been under-represented in unions, mainly due to artificial and societal barriers in union membership and union apprenticeship and training programs.

PLAs harm local workers. Proponents claim PLAs ensure the use of local workers, but the truth is PLAs fail at local job creation. PLA supporters fail to mention the term “local workers” excludes local nonunion, women, minority and veteran workers. This rhetoric is particularly misleading because only 14 percent of U.S. construction workers belong to a union.

PLAs take away employee’s rights. Employees normally are permitted to choose whether to join a union through a card check process or a federally supervised private ballot election. PLAs require unions to be the exclusive bargaining representative for workers during the life of the project. The decision to elect union representation is made by the employer —when agreeing to participate in a PLA—rather than the employees. PLAs are called pre-hire agreements because they can be negotiated before the contractor hires any employees or employees vote on union representation. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) generally prohibits pre-hire agreements, but an exception in the law allows for these agreements only in the construction industry. In short, government-mandated PLAs strip away the right of construction workers to a federally supervised private-ballot election or a card check election when deciding whether to unionize their workplace.

PLAs are not necessary to, and are not successful at, ensuring labor peace or keeping a project safe, on time, on budget, or in compliance with labor laws. Unions leverage the threat of labor strikes and unrest to compel construction users to require PLAs on construction projects. This is a particularly disingenuous argument that flirts with blackmail because unions cause many project delays through illegal organizing and jurisdictional disputes. In addition, unions have struck on PLA projects, calling into question the value of the agreements. In contrast, merit shop workers do not strike, yet they are typically discouraged from working on PLA projects.

Click HERE to contact the Franklin County Commission and Columbus City Council to SAY NO to PLAs.

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