ABC: Project labor agreement order ignores workforce realities

Sources: Associated Builders and Contractors, Washington, D.C. 

In light of the White House’s “Build Back Better” ambitions, Associated Builders and Contractors Vice President of Regulatory, Labor and State Affairs Ben Brubeck questions a new executive order encouraging project labor agreement (PLA) mandates on federal construction contracts exceeding $35 million. 

“The policy will not help America; instead, it will exacerbate the industry’s skilled workforce shortage, needlessly increase construction costs and reduce opportunities for local contractors and skilled tradespeople,” he contends. “This anti-competitive and costly executive order rewards well connected special interests at the expense of hardworking taxpayers and small businesses who benefit from fair and open competition on taxpayer-funded construction projects.

“Research has demonstrated that government-mandated PLAs increase construction costs by 12 percent to 20 percent, which results in fewer improvements to roads, bridges, utilities, schools, affordable housing and clean energy projects—and the creation of fewer jobs. PLAs steer contracts to unionized contractors and workers at the expense of the best-quality nonunion contractors and workers who want to compete fairly at a price best for taxpayers.” 

“PLA mandates are bad public policy because they effectively exclude the nearly 9 out of 10 U.S. construction workers who choose not to join a union from building taxpayer-funded construction projects,” Brubeck continues. “These controversial agreements hold a third of employees’ compensation for ransom unless they join a union, pay union fees and prop up struggling union pension plans. PLAs also create excessive cost burdens and risks for high-performing nonunion contractors, which built more than half of the federal government’s large-scale construction projects during the past decade and are more likely to be small, women- and/or minority-owned businesses.”

With nearly 88 percent of the construction workforce not represented by a union and the industry facing a skilled labor shorted of 430,000 in 2021, he adds, the White House would be best served by promoting inclusive, win-win policies that welcome all of America’s construction industry to realize the potential of the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act; increase accountability and competition; and, reduce waste and favoritism in public works project procurement. ABC and a coalition of construction industry, small business and taxpayer advocates have been asking lawmakers to oppose PLA schemes and cosponsor fair and open competition legislation (H.R. 1284/S.403) on federal taxpayer-funded construction. Similar pro-taxpayer legislation has been enacted in 24 states.  —  www.