With a vote of 130-30, the Mass. House of Representatives voted with the required 2/3s majority to override Gov. Charlie Baker's veto of a bill provision mandating use of a project labor agreement in constructing a new $400 million Holyoke Soldiers' Home. The June 30th party-line vote was a vote for government-sanctioned job discrimination that will block most minority- and women-owned construction companies from bidding and working on the project.
The House majority chose to embrace intellectual dishonesty in order to kowtow to organized labor, which represents a mere 16.5% of the state's construction workforce. For example, Rep. Danielle Gregoire of Framingham seems to be unaware of the state's prevailing wage law when she stated a PLA was necessary to ensure good wages on the project. The prevailing wage law means every worker receives the same pay on a public project, whether they are union or nonunion. Actually, nonunion workers do better on public projects because union workers lose a shocking percentage of their wages to union deductions.
(Did you know union workers pay for their own training and not the union contractors who employ them? Do you think Amazon or Google make their workers pay for training? Union construction workers also don't get paid holiday or vacation days. The unions also warn their apprentices to expect to be laid off and on unemployment between projects. It's a way of life for them, but that's not the merit shop experience. Is it a wonder most construction workers choose to work for merit shops?)
Gregoire also spoke of a need to avoid project delays caused by work stoppages or labor disputes. What she failed to say was only organized labor causes work stoppages and labor disputes. Merit shop workers do not strike. For that matter and to be fair, union construction workers only infrequently strike. However, the apparent threat of a union strike on the project, for hypothetical reasons no one bothered to explain, was enough for the House majority to cave in to the bullying of organized labor.
Gregoire cited the multiple decades old Taunton and Worcester courthouse projects, and Boston Harbor Clean Up as "successful" PLA projects, while conveniently ignoring the Big Dig which was union-only all the way.
She claimed the private sector uses PLAs and pointed to
the Encore Casino in Everett. Maybe she doesn't know the Legislature mandated use of union labor on that project with so-called "labor harmony" language in the legalized gambling law.
Rep. Bud Williams of Springfield spoke about the need to build wealth in the minority community and pledged his efforts to improve the system shortly after voting for the PLA. A PLA is a systemic barrier that blocks minorities and women from working on this project and building wealth from good-paying jobs.
In supporting unions and ignoring all other arguments, liberal and progressive legislators have turned their backs on minority and community leaders and activists in other parts of the country who oppose PLAs. "These PLAs promise 'local hire' and outreach to minority neighborhoods, but the unions’ promises have always been empty," wrote San Diego activist Shane Harris last July in the San Diego Times.
It's really simple. PLAs require contractors to use workers referred from the union, i.e. union workers. This means contractors cannot use their own employees. So what should they do? Lay off their own employees? So nonunion contractors won't bid because if they wanted to tango with the unions, they would already be signatory. The net affect of a PLA is only union contractors will bid, and limited competition means increased prices, as outlined in numerous studies.
But as Al Gore might say, that's an inconvenient truth.
In his veto message, Governor Baker outlined many good reasons for not having a PLA on this project. "Massachusetts's public construction laws are amongst the most open and fair laws in the country with respect to construction procurement and workforce wages. These laws were implemented to create a level playing field for all contractors eligible to work on public construction projects. PLAs create barriers to entry that eliminate the equality of opportunity that is central to the Commonwealth's public construction process."
The Senate is up next, and while it has lots of progressives who talk a good game about inclusion and equity, there is not much hope in these quarters that they will stand up against their political pals in organized labor.