Despite PLA Benefits, ABC Embarks on Anti-PLA Campaign
Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) is launching a new campaign against Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) even as studies show their benefits, and the Biden administration touts their importance. President Biden wants to use PLAs to build back infrastructure as part of the American Jobs Plan.
What is a Project Labor Agreement?
A PLA, or Project Labor Agreement, is a collective bargaining agreement that applies to a specific construction project and lasts for the duration of the project. Contractors can still hire from their existing workforce or use any apprentices as long as they pay them a prevailing wage.
Prevailing wage laws protect communities and workers from unscrupulous contractors' low-balling bids on taxpayer-funded construction projects by setting wage rates to the local or prevailing standard. Contractors who do not hold themselves to Project Labor Agreements are able to cut corners to bid impossibly low on projects because they are not obligated to pay any sort of standard wage or offer their workers benefits.
PLAs also protect taxpayers by eliminating costly delays due to labor conflicts or shortages of skilled workers.
Associated Builders and Contractor's Arguments Fall Flat
Associated Builders and Contractors is waging a "six-figure" campaign to lobby government officials against the benefits of PLAs. The ABC and its new campaign, which is funded by construction employers, argues against the benefits of PLAs, but ignores key elements of why PLAs are actually more beneficial to the bottom line.
In Project Labor Agreements: An Exploratory Study, Daniel Rounds of the University of California Institute for Labor and Employment says, “Although the workers in construction projects with PLAS may be paid higher wages than workers in non-union projects, much evidence suggests that in the long run, using highly skilled workers with clear-cut rules in Project Labor Agreements will save money.”
Associated Builders and Contractor's Misinformation Campaign
The ABC incorrectly portrays PLAs as beneficial only to union workers and claims the projects will be forced to use union contractors. However, this is simply not true. Non-union contractors can also bid on the projects so long as they agree to the wages, benefits and other conditions specified in the contract. "PLAs always specify that workers be paid at least the minimum prevailing wage for the area," says construction attorney G.M. Heitman with Nason Yeager, "and contractors should include those rates in their bids if they don’t usually pay that much on projects."
PLAs: the Answer to Labor Shortage
The truth about the labor shortage is that workers are fed up with working for low-wages. And by not accepting low paying jobs, they are standing up for themselves by saying "no." Heidi Shierholz, senior economist and director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute explains, “Employers post their too-low wages, can’t find workers to fill jobs at that pay level, and claim they’re facing a labor shortage.” Anne Lowery, staff writer at the Atlantic, expounds on the subject, "Workers aren’t going to take jobs making less than they were before the pandemic, nor are they going to go do a more dangerous job for the same hourly wage. Those expecting higher-paying jobs to be available in the near future also aren’t going to take a job paying less."
When utilized, PLAs supply skilled and trained labor to contractors struggling to fill jobs. The Laborers’ International Union of North America says that a PLA, "allows project owners and contractors to take advantage of highly-trained and more productive craft labor supported by $600 million of annual investments in state-of-the-art training programs."
The misinformation given by the ABC again is short sighted when it falls to worker pay. The ABC says that it is unfair to non union members that they have to pay into the union if they want to work on PLA jobsites. According to the ABC, an estimated 20% of each paycheck goes to these fees. Research shows that The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 45 dues are 1.25% of base pay and $20-$39 a month depending on type of membership demonstrating that the ABC estimate is grossly inflated. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that on average, workers covered by PLAs earn almost 20% more than non-union sectors.
"The real solution [to the labor shortage] is to restore the power and reach of the unions, raise wages to attract more workers, and grow the only proven way to develop the necessary skilled labor—apprenticeship programs funded by employers and jointly administered by unions and employers," says Ross Eisenbray of the Economic Policy Institute.
ABC's Campaign Hides the Truth
Richard Trumka, president of The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, said earlier this year that, “half the workforce said they would join a union today if given the opportunity because they know that without the power of a union, workers are helpless.” Therein lies the ABC's true agenda, to limit the workers accessibility to the benefits that PLAs provide by denying them opportunity. The objective of the ABC's campaign of misinformation is to squash organized labor's message and hide the truth from the workers; that Project Labor Agreements guarantee the wages and benefits that workers deserve.