MCA Supports Government Neutrality in Public Construction

The Merit Construction Alliance weighed in with state lawmakers in support of HB. 2667, An Act Requiring Government Neutrality in All Public Construction Projects, under consideration by the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight.

It is the position of MCA that Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) are discriminatory, costly and unnecessary. They should never be used on any project, regardless of size or cost. PLAs deny the great majority of construction workers the opportunity to work on a project simply for choosing not to join a labor union. The justifications for PLAs simply obscure their true purpose, which is to unfairly block competition from non-union craftsmen and create a monopoly for organized labor.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, its various subsidiary agencies and authorities, and its municipalities, should never enter into a PLA on a public project. Nor should any government entity ever require, encourage or pressure a private project to impose a PLA.

In a 2015 report, “No Justification for State-Sponsored Workplace Discrimination,” the MCA detailed the many arguments against PLAs, including:

  • Denies Workers Freedom of Association. All employees working under a PLA must either join a union or, at the very least, contribute to the union dues and benefits system for the duration of the PLA. This denies them the right to work on a project unless they sacrifice their freedom of association and pay into a system from which they will receive no benefit.
  • Amounts to State-Sponsored Job Discrimination. Refusing to hire merit shop workers amounts to employment discrimination. The Commonwealth would never tolerate a measure that required hiring only non-union workers, and it therefore should not require the use of only union workers. Not imposing a PLA still allows union workers the equal opportunity to pursue their livelihood.
  • 4 Out of 5 Are Merit Shop Workers. In Massachusetts, more than 85% of construction workers make the personal choice to work for merit shops and to not join a union. The workforce data is from the Union Membership and Coverage Database, available at www.unionstats.com, an Internet data resource providing private and public sector labor union membership, coverage, and density estimates compiled from the monthly household Current Population Survey (CPS) using BLS methods.
  • Merit Shop Workers Are Equally Qualified. Merit shop construction workers are highly trained, licensed professionals who are equally as qualified to work on public and private projects as their union counterparts. In addition, they are also taxpayers who are helping to pay for public works projects, and they should be given equal opportunity to work on them.
  • State Law Already Guarantees Wage and Benefit Levels. The state’s prevailing wage law, not a PLA, requires workers on public projects receive wages and benefits at certain levels. Merit shop employees enjoy pay and benefits equal to, if not better than, their union counterparts. Merit shops offer excellent health insurance plans; paid holidays, sick days and vacation time; and fully-funded 401(k) pension plans.
  • PLAs Raise Costs by Restricting Competition. PLAs vastly shrink the pool of bidders to only contractors signatory to organized labor, and this results in higher prices. Numerous studies show the restriction in competitive bidding caused by a PLA results in bids increasing by at least 20 percent. Actual examples across the Commonwealth verify the findings of these studies. PLAs and similar schemes are designed to prop up the union system unable to compete in the marketplace.
  • PLAs Shrink Labor Pool & Defeat Hiring Goals. PLAs fail to guarantee the hiring of minorities, women, and local residents. By locking out four out of five construction workers, projects do not have access to the available workers necessary to meet those hiring goals. Most recently, the City of New Bedford joined San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., New York, and Baltimore in failing to meet goals for hiring local residents, women, and minorities on construction projects, despite the promises of PLA supporters.
  • PLAs Provide No Guarantees. PLAs do not prevent strikes or work stoppages. Nor do they ensure work is done on-time, on budget or to certain standards. Numerous examples exist of organized labor walking off projects governed by PLAs. Only unions strike and picket. There is not a single example of merit shop employees striking. Many examples exist of projects overbudget, late and with poor workmanship, but the Big Dig stands out as the best example.
  • No Reliable Study Supports PLAs. PLA proponents rely heavily on studies to justify the agreements, but one should be cautioned to closely review the backgrounds of the authors. The researchers nearly always have long-standing, close ties to building trade unions, raising serious questions about the credibility of the research and findings.

In her 2014 ruling in MCA vs. City of Quincy, U.S. District Court Judge Rya Zobel wrote: “There is a ‘fundamental right to employment, where the employee is hired by a private employer who receives a government contract to work on a public project.’” Further, Judge Zobel ruled: “[P]ursuit of a livelihood, [is] a fundamental right within the purview of the Privileges and Immunities [of the US Constitution].”

The Merit Construction Alliance believes union workers should be recognized and respected. Equally as important, employees who prefer to work for merit shops should not be subject to employment discrimination simply because they choose not to join a union. The MCA respectfully requests that the Committee support HB 2667, which will address employment discrimination in public construction and provide an equal and fair playing field for all the workers of the Commonwealth.