It's easy to understand the political expedience for left-leaning politicians to embrace organized labor and project labor agreements that create monopolies for organized labors. What is conveniently ignored is the detrimental impact on minority construction company owners and their non-union employees.
"[C]laims that a PLA can be a tool to ensure minority construction workers and businesses are used on a public project is a farce," states Harry C. Alford, president & CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.
Alford is a long-time critic of PLAs. He notes most black-owned construction firms are merit shops that are blocked from bidding on union-only jobs. He says the goals of hiring more minority firms and workers are achievable through contract and workforce requirements "independent of a discriminatory and costly PLA mandate."
While testifying against a PLA in Baltimore, Alford's words apply to the nation:
"The solution to underemployment and unemployment in the African American community is free enterprise and entrepreneurship. Government-mandated PLAs undermine both cornerstones and harm nonunion African American firms and construction workers disproportionately and will lead to less economic development, public infrastructure and prosperity in Baltimore," Alford states.
Yet, U.S. Senate candidate Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., embraces union-only project labor agreements and the federal Davis Bacon Act in his Kennedy Jobs & Justice Initiative. And he is only the latest Democrat to embrace policies that "harm nonunion Africian American firms and construction workers disproportionately."
Kennedy's plan: "the JJI will adhere to the Davis Bacon Act and project labor agreements, as well as coordinate closely with labor unions to fill those jobs with highly qualified workers and strong labor protections."
The congressman and Senate challenger is playing catch up with his rival, incumbent U.S. Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass. Markey embraced PLAs and union-protectionism in the Green New Deal in early 2019 alongside new Rep. Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez of New York. Kennedy's job policy says as much:
"It will closely heed the complementary goals of a Green New Deal and ensure strong labor protections like the use of project labor agreements and extending Davis Bacon prevailing wage requirements to renewable tax credits."
What's a better course to take? Alford offers this:
"Government neutrality toward whether a construction contractor has an agreement with a labor organization is the best way to ensure fair and open competition on taxpayer-funded public works projects. This inclusive policy also benefits taxpayers, as research has shown government-mandated PLAs can increase the cost of taxpayer-funded school construction by 12% to 20%."