Project Labor Agreements, or PLAs, are a hot and divisive topic in light of many states adopting Right To Work policies. Many big construction projects require some form of unionization before a construction industry professional can bid, making PLAs a fact of life for many.
We caught up with Wally Zimolong, a “rising star of construction litigation” according to Super Lawyer Magazine, to learn the ins and outs of PLAs. You can read more from Wally at the website Supplemental Conditions.
Project labor agreements come about when contractors refrain from unionizing when given the choice. What are some reasons that construction industry professionals are reluctant to join unions in your experience?
First, PLAs come about when union-backed politicians require them as a condition of working on publicly-funded projects. In turn, these union-backed politicians put the interest of the unions before the taxpayers.
Contractors are reluctant to sign collective bargaining agreements because unions hurt workers. A common myth is that unions are interested in helping their members and the middle class. To the contrary, unions are only interested in helping themselves and increasing the amount of money they receive in the form of forced union dues and from political contributions confiscated from union members’ paychecks. Unions also impose onerous work rules that reward individuals based on arbitrary measures like seniority, rather than merit and hard work.
Why is the government so concerned with working with unionized construction professionals?
Trade unions are by far the largest contributor to political campaigns. Politicians that receive these political contributions are the biggest proponents of project labor agreements. The “government” as a whole is not so concerned with working with unionized construction professionals; only those politicians that receive union support are.
It’s said the PLAs can cause construction projects to run long and over budget. What are some things about PLAs that cause budgets to go over?
Because PLAs require contractors to use a unionized workforce, taxpayers end up paying a premium over the market rate for labor costs. Also, onerous union work rules and inter-union jurisdictional disputes cost the project time. In construction, the more time spent on a project, the greater the cost.
You wrote a post on Supplemental Conditions about letters of assent not binding contractors to future CBAs, where you talk about PLAs containing language that can tie a contractor to future projects. Can you tell us what some of that language might be, so contractors can look out for it?
There are two types of PLAs. A limited PLA, which is the kind at issue in the case I discussed, binds a non-union contractor to a collective bargaining agreement for a specific project and is limited to one union and one specific contractor. A general PLA is a government mandate that any contractor submitting a bid on a public project become bound by the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. It applies to all contractors submitting bids on the project.
In a limited project labor agreement, contractors should make sure to include language that says specifically when the agreement shall terminate. Typically, termination is at the conclusion of the project.
It’s been suggested that PLAs can take away workers’ rights, with employers electing union representation rather than the workers. Can you talk about some of the risks of doing things in this way?
That is correct. Because PLAs require all employers to become bound by the terms of a CBA, workers are required to work under union work rules and are forced to pay over part of their wages to a union to which they do not belong.
In your experience or opinion, are there any benefits of construction professionals using a PLA?
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