The following is the pro-Project Labor Agreement opinion of Bob Balgenorth, President of the State Building and Construction Trades Council.

Read Orange County Supervisor John M.W. Moorlach anti-Project Labor Agreement view in his piece, here.

What makes a community?  Families, friends, neighborhoods, good jobs with decent pay and benefits–all these things are essential to a strong, healthy, happy community.

These are also the goals and benefits of project labor agreements, which smart local leaders are able to customize to bring about precisely that result, a stronger and better community.

A project labor agreement is a pre-hire contract between labor and management that governs pay rates, benefits, work rules, and dispute resolution, and guarantees that workers will perform most efficiently during the project. PLAs are widely used in the public and private sectors for construction of everything from schools to courthouses to reservoirs to sports stadiums.

PLAs uplift communities and people, because they ensure that workers are highly skilled, have steady jobs, with family-supporting incomes, and the peace of mind that comes from knowing that families have good health care. Without those guarantees that PLAs bring, communities are left to bear the costs of caring for people without means, and everyone pays the price.

PLAs also bring the pride of high-quality workmanship to community projects, and prevent the shoddy workmanship that occurs when workers are inadequately trained, that inevitably leads to higher long-term maintenance and repair costs.

This is why communities greatly benefit from PLAs. They bring stability, reliability, quality, and long-term value, and can be customized to create a better social climate.  In Los Angeles, for example, city officials tailored their redevelopment agency’s PLA to provide good construction career and apprenticeship  opportunities to people in their most depressed areas, at once providing a better life and hope for a better future where these things were needed most.

Local government leaders who have used PLAs know about these benefits from firsthand experience. But recent academic studies have also reached the same conclusion: the benefits promised by PLAs are real, and the complaints used against them are unfounded and false.

A Cornell University study from 2009 found: “PLAs are a valuable construction management tool for project planning and labor cost reduction,” and further, “There is no evidence to support claims that project labor agreements either limit the pool of bidders or drive up actual construction costs.”

In fact, not only did non-union contractors bid on the Metropolitan Water District’s  $2 billion eastside reservoir project, over 70 of them actually worked on that project.
Another 2009 study from Michigan State University, that researched PLA use dating back to the massive public works projects of the 1930s, found that the record clearly shows that PLAs “improve construction projects and provide benefits to owners, contractors, construction labor, communities, and the public.” 

These studies prove that the repeated misrepresentations about PLAs—that they increase costs and exclude non-union bidders—simply hold no water, because the underlying assumption, that providing decent wages and conditions for workers necessarily increases the overall cost, is flatly false.

When the long-term increases in maintenance and repair costs resulting from poorer workmanship, and the costs of stoppages and delays of non-PLA projects are considered, PLAs look like a bargain. When the invigoration of the local economy, and local tax base, from decent wages and local hiring  (a UCLA study shows PLAs result in 30% more local hiring) are factored in, it becomes a no-brainer. PLAs are a home run for local communities and their governments.

Further, PLAs in no way restrict bidding or opportunities for non-union contractors and workers. They simply hold union and non-union bidders alike to the same negotiated and agreed-upon wages, benefits, quality standards and local hiring provisions.

And they work. Local officials who’ve used them know PLAs work, and that their communities, businesses and workers are all better off because of them.

Bob Balgenorth
President of the State Building and Construction Trades Council