September 2012

Are You Working on a PLA Project and Don’t Even Know It?

On “Day One,” if elected to the highest office, U.S. Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney would end all project labor agreements (PLA) in this country. Not a paraphrase. Not rhetoric. These are Mitt Romney’s exact words when he spoke to the anti-union front group, the Associated Building Contractors (ABC). He is in essence, promising to “eliminate union ironworker jobs nationwide.” (Look for the infamous video clip at Romney is also vowing to “fight to repeal Davis-Bacon.”

As ironworkers, we live and breathe to be out there on the job working at the trade we love doing to support our families. It’s easy to think politics are “not for me” or “politicians are all the same,” but it’s just not true on workplace and paycheck issues. We need to remember—without question—many of the jobs we are on are directly connected to politics.  Our government—whether it’s federal, state or local—is the number one construction consumer in the country. Most of these projects have either federal or state Davis–Bacon provisions providing protection for the prevailing wage, in many cases, your union wage.

While you work at your job site every day, working safely and expertly, behind the scenes is your Iron Worker business manager along with the building trades’ councils for your area, to convey to our business owners and elected officials the sheer value and quality of projects done under a PLA.

Ironworkers work millions of man-hours on projects covered under PLAs. The $43.3 million PLA project of the New York Yankees Triple A affiliate’s PNC Field in Lackawanna County, Pa., had steel erected by Local 489 (Scranton, Pa.) ironworkers working for Tri-City Erectors.  Porter Hospital, with steel erector Chicago Steel, in Valparaiso, Ind., is nearing completion of a 460,000-square-foot project at a total cost in excess of $141 million. Local 395 (Hammond, Ind.) and the Northwest Indiana Building Trades have ramped up their efforts to secure more job commitments for their members utilizing PLAs, including projects such as Valparaiso University, local libraries for Lake County, and Griffith Library.

PLAs offer owners of projects economic stability over the many years complex projects take to complete, making a PLA a good financial decision for those owners. A recently announced project utilizing a PLA was the $5.2 billion Tappan Zee Bridge project between 14 building trades’ labor bodies and the New York State Thruway Authority.  The PLA will save taxpayers an estimated $452 million. The newly publicized $1.6 billion NBC/Universal Studios Expansion project is scheduled to start under a PLA reached between NBC/Universal and the Los Angeles/Orange County Building Trades. The ten-year project of movie and television studio upgrades and expansion of the Universal Theme Park will produce 13,000 construction jobs.

A PLA, simply put, is a set of rules agreed to by all parties involved with a project, rules by which a project will work by, nothing more and nothing less. These rules are agreed to by the owner of the facility, the construction firm building the project, and the labor unions involved. Just as your local professional sport team would no sooner take the field without a set of rules everyone understands and agrees to plays by, a PLA project ensures the same clarity and agreement. When we see project labor agreements utilized, the job gets done smart, on time, on budget, and done right the first time.

PLAs across North America have resulted in millions of man-hours for union trades, and more importantly union ironworkers.  From coast to coast, in rural and urban areas, on private, federal, state, and locally-funded projects, PLAs are behind the biggest, most exciting, and crucial projects our members work on. Since President Obama signed an executive order recommending PLAs for federal construction projects over $25 million, the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and others, have been on the warpath because they know PLAs combine efficiency to the public and prosperity to the skilled trades at the expense of their cheap labor, “race-to the-bottom” philosophy.

The Hoover Dam in 1931 was one the first projects ever done under a PLA. Even with the long, successful, proven history of PLAs, our elected officials still need to be educated on how a PLA is not a bad thing as the ABC professes, but a win-win for workers, owners, and the public. Major corporations agree: Disney, Gillette, Reebok, Toyota, Major League Baseball, and the National Football League have utilized PLAs to complete their projects within the timeframe and project budgets. Many of our best jobs are the result of securing work for our members through these PLAs, something our opposition wants to ban. If our opponents succeed in banning PLAs, the effect will be felt throughout our entire membership, in an economy slowly recovering from the Great Recession.
Big businesses who oppose unions in any way would like nothing more than for unions to become extinct, are not surprisingly, against PLAs. They are threatened by unions and their signatory union contractors, who while under projects utilizing PLAs, allow the owners to procure the best, most efficient use of labor.

Union ironworkers, with our brothers and sisters in the labor movement, believe in the equality of opportunity to succeed and provide for our families, in the hope of raising ALL workers.