In an opinion piece appearing in the CTMirror on March 18, authors John Harrity of the CT Roundtable on Climate and Jobs and Samantha Dynowski of the Sierra Club of CT argue in favor of a proposal, SB 999, which would ensure government mandated Project Labor Agreements (PLA) be used on renewable energy construction projects. They argue the use of PLAs would usher in a “just” transition to a green economy. Nothing is further from the truth.
A PLA is a pre-bid contract requiring contractors recognize the union as the representative on the job, follow antiquated union work rules, pay into the union benefit fund and hire workers from the union hall. In the rare instance a non-union worker is employed under a PLA, they are forced to pay union fees.
PLAs are a scheme guaranteeing the use of union workers without concern for competition, nothing more.
PLAs can’t and don’t guarantee projects are on schedule or on budget. They don’t guarantee local or minority hiring either. History has shown us quite the opposite. The Big Dig in Boston, synonymous with construction boondoggles, was a PLA. The construction of Dunkin’ Donuts Park was so far behind schedule the Yard Goats lost an entire season in the park. Meriden and Waterbury have experienced PLA projects that failed to meet promised hiring goals. The Bennie Dover school in New London is facing cost overruns and potential delays due in part to underwhelming bid responses. The Mario Cuomo bridge in New York was also behind schedule and over budget. The litany of failures to deliver on the promises made by PLA proponents is long and varied.
Open shop construction comprises roughly 86% of the industry; likewise, most minority and women-owned contractors are open shop too. These contractors build everything from schools and hospitals to roads, bridges and energy infrastructure. Workers are trained in high-quality apprenticeship programs and required to hold the same safety certifications as their union counterparts. They have an opportunity to create a rewarding career with health and retirement benefits. To belittle the skill and training of these workers as the “Walmart” of construction is offensive.
How funny it is that these workers, so thoughtlessly criticized by PLA proponents, need only pay the union fees to instantaneously transform into acceptable workers under the terms of the agreement?
Open shop contractors are denied a fair opportunity to compete under PLA mandates and typically will not bid. There is nothing “just” about such discrimination solely based union affiliation and this discrimination is not without consequence to taxpayers- depressing competition drives up costs.
In an opinion piece featured in the Mirror, the former Chief of Staff for administration and finance at UConn decried the PLA mandates our flagship university must endure for purely political reasons and stated the increased costs are hindering the university’s ability to compete with other institutions. This is Harrity and Dynowski’s desired path for renewable energy. The rank and file of their organizations may want to know why their leaders are pushing for policies that could very well result in fewer renewable energy construction projects.
We should reject government mandated PLAs and encourage a level playing field where all responsible contractors and skilled workers, union and non-union, have an equal opportunity to win work. You can’t support PLAs in the name of justice, you aren’t for workers, if its only union workers and you shouldn’t be for renewable energy construction but only if it fits your erroneous perception of the construction industry.
SB 999 should be rejected outright as an unjust affront to workers across Connecticut and to the laudable goals of renewable energy creation.
Christopher Fryxell is President of the Associated Builders & Contractors, CT Chapter.