Project Labor Agreements are good public policy
By Martin Bennett
The Living Wage Coalition strongly supports the proposed Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for all county public works projects of more than $25 million. We believe that PLAs create good living wage and family supporting jobs and provide economic opportunity and career paths in the construction industry.
PLAs have been used on federal public works projects since the construction of the Grand Coulee dam in 1938, and in California, the construction of Shasta dam in 1940. Many cities, counties, and public agencies in California require PLAs for large public works projects. The most recent and successful PLAs in the Bay Area are the modernization and expansion of the Oakland airport and seaport and the expansion of San Francisco International Airport.
Seventeen recent studies by academic researchers confirm that PLAs are good public policy. What do these studies reveal?
First, in 2011 Cornell University researchers published a study which found that PLAs promote local hiring particularly for veterans, women, minorities and low income residents and PLAs create opportunities for local residents to enter the construction trades by utilizing local hiring halls and requiring that at least 20% of the total hours worked on a project are completed by apprentices who are enrolled in state certified apprenticeship programs.
Second, researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Rhode Island in a 2010 study demonstrate that for large complex projects, requiring numerous prime contractors and subcontractors, and often more than 15 different building trades and crafts, PLAs enhance the coordination between contractors; provide a steady supply of qualified and skilled workers; implement uniform work rules for all crafts; maintain highest health and safety standards; and ensure compliance with construction schedules and time lines.
Maria Figueroa, Jeff Grabelsky, and Ryan Lamare, Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations – Community Workforce Provisions in Project Labor Agreements: A Tool for Building Middle Class Careers (2011)
Dale Belman, Michigan State University and Matthew Bodah, University of Rode Island, Economic Policy Institute – Building Better: A Look at Best Practices for the Design of Project Labor Agreements (2010)
Fred B. Kotler, Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations – Project Labor Agreements in New York State: In the Public Interest and Proven Value (2011)
Fred B. Kotler, Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations – Project Labor Agreements in New York State: In the Public Interest (2009)
Dale Belman, Michigan State University, Matthew Bodah, University of Rhode Island, Peter Phillips, University of Utah – Project Labor Agreements (2007)
Jeff Grabelsky and Fred Koptler, Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations – Why PLAs Are Good Public Policy 2011
Third, 2011 and 2009 studies by a Cornell University researcher concluded that for large public works projects PLAs do not increase costs, and in fact, PLAs lead to cost savings given the timely completion of projects, avoidance of delays due to work stoppages or strikes, the standardization of contract terms for different construction trades, and the high quality of work standards that eliminates the need to fix costly mistakes and minimizes long term maintenance costs.
Finally, recent studies confirm that PLAs set a prevailing wage floor for all construction work in a region and PLAs ensure that publically subsidized projects do not drive down local wage standards and increase the likelihood that construction workers will receive comprehensive health care and retirement benefits.
Cornell Professors Jeff Grabelsky and Fred Kotler in a paper “Why Project Labor Agreements are Good Public Policy” state: “No one should be confused. When public entities enter the marketplace as owners, users, and/or purchasers of construction services they have a responsibility to protect and promote the public interest by spending funds wisely, judiciously, and efficiently. PLAs are a vital instrument to full fill that responsibility.”
Martin Bennett is an Instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College, California Federation of Teachers Local 1946. He is Co-Chair of the Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County. At right are studies he utilized for this article.