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Despite Misinformation and Ongoing Attacks, PLAs Continue to Provide the Best Value

August 2015 – As you may have seen, I recently submitted a response to the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper to a highly misleading column they had published, berating the use of project labor agreements for school construction.

That column, in which the author was critical of several bills sponsored by the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California (SBCTC), repeated the familiar phony arguments long made by the anti-union lobbying group Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC); that PLAs drive up prices and exclude non-union contractors, claims that have been thoroughly and repeatedly disproven and discredited.

In our response, we described the efficient and cost-effective use of PLAs by several entities including the Los Angeles Unified School District and Los Angeles Community College District, and noted that non-union contractors have not been excluded and do win bids, even if some of them don’t like the PLAs’ requirements for higher quality work and a superior skilled and trained workforce under the lowest bid.

In fact, we even noted that the Union-Tribune’s anti-union columnist actually acknowledged that PLAs ensure that public works projects are built by the best-trained, highly skilled workers, and provide the best results, when he complained that these desirable requirements, along with an incentive to utilize the best price and value, give union firms “another leg up.”

We also refuted the absurdly dishonest claim that 84 percent of construction contractors are non-union. We represent 400,000 union construction workers in California and 95 percent of all apprentices registered in state-approved apprenticeship programs, so unless ABC is hiding about 2.5 million non-union workers somewhere, the claim is impossible. Maybe they are counting fly-by-night contractors that function under the underground economy, paying cash to unskilled low-wage workers whom they often pick up from gathering points at street corners and Home Depot parking lots.

In fact, in 2010, out of 345,000 licensed contractors in California, ABC claimed only 1,156 members, less than 0.4 percent! Yet, according to the state’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, those contractors accounted for 24 percent of all fraud on public works projects!

Although our enemies like to portray PLAs as some onerous new burden that will harm their businesses, PLAs have actually been used to advance the public interest in California for almost a century now. They first proved their value with the construction of the big public works projects of the 1930s; Hoover Dam and Shasta Dam and others, which continue to serve us and provide enormous public benefits so many decades later.

These public works projects were larger and more complex than anything that had come before, so the project developers saw the value of placing all different types of workers on the project under an umbrella contract that protected everyone: better and safer conditions for workers, protections against delays and overruns for the contractors with the use of a streamlined highly-skilled work force, and the guarantee of quality and cost-effectiveness for the consumers and taxpayers. PLAs have been providing these important protections and benefits ever since.

For a great recent example, the San Diego Union-Tribune has to look no further than the new San Diego Central Court Building, just one of many recent projects to be covered by agreements with the Building Trades. The project’s construction manager, the firm of Rudolph & Sletten (R&S), has issued regular progress reports on the project since the PLA was signed in June 2013. Bidding was completed by that October, and those bids, from both union and non-union contractors, came in millions of dollars below the approved budget or the engineers’ estimated cost.

Since then, “The quality of work and the attention to safety has been good,” R&S has reported. “There have been minimal amount of corrections in the field and the ability to handle the unique challenges of a project of this magnitude may be attributed to personnel that come from a skilled and trained work force.”

Further, the report states, the PLA has ensured a steady supply of skilled workers, has increased opportunities for youth from that area coming out of school to enter apprenticeships on the project, and is facilitating local hiring.

Those results are typical. Smart government officials as well as profit-driven, private construction projects, who understand the benefits of PLAs are using them more and more; for schools, colleges, courthouses, hospitals, convention centers, baseball and football stadiums, bridges, rail and transit lines, ports, factories, power plants, entertainment venues, skyscrapers, and more.

PLAs have been around for a long time, and they are proving more widespread and useful now than ever before.

There can only be one reason for that. They offer the best value for all concerned.  PLAs simply work, for everyone.

That is why the Building Trades continues to sponsor and advocate legislation to promote and encourage their use.

And of course, non-union contractors associations that have members that routinely cheat unskilled workers on wages at construction sites, will continue to oppose project labor agreements because the higher standards for a streamlined, highly-skilled work force do not fit into their business model, with its race to the bottom in which skill and quality are not factors.


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