The Massachusetts Legislature has passed a bill that will stop minority-, women- and veteran-owned contractors from bidding on public construction. It is a low point in a state supposedly enlightened and progressive. An instrument of exclusion was cynically passed in the name of inclusion.
The bond bill authorizing a new $400 million Holyoke Soldier's Home includes a project labor agreement, which mandates use of only union labor.
This means all contractors who are both certified to work on state projects and are merit shop, cannot bid on the project because a PLA erects insurmountable hurdles. This includes merit shops owned by minorities, women and veterans -- who are typically non union.
In short, PLAs are a systemic barrier designed to give a special interest an unfair advantage at the expense of minority-, women- and veteran-owned construction firms. PLAs also deny nonunion employees an opportunity to work on a public project funded with their tax dollars.
For many reasons, the MCA has requested Governor Baker line-item veto the PLA sections from the spending bill. In a May 20 letter to Governor Baker, MCA observed:
Government-sanctioned job discrimination should not be permitted in Massachusetts. Please, send a powerful message that all qualified citizens, regardless of race, gender and professional choices, are welcome to bid and work on publicly funded construction in Massachusetts.
A PLA will never say “nonunion need not apply,” but it might as well. Nonunion contractors decline to bid on PLA projects because they are prohibited from using their own employees. Instead, they would be required to use random workers sent by the union halls. In no other area of public procurement is a corporation required by public policy to abandon its full-time employees in order to provide a service.
PLAs hurt all nonunion workers and merit shops certified by the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance as qualified to perform public construction. This is especially so for DCAMM-certified merit shops owned by minorities, women and veterans and their employees.
Decent, honest, hardworking people, who are skilled professionals, are being penalized by public policy for their personal choice to not join organized labor. This PLA-mandate is a new systemic barrier put in place to impede participation by nonunion contractors on a project they are helping to fund with their tax dollars.
DCAMM’s Affirmative Marketing Program for Design & Construction has a proven track record of promoting diversity and achieving real results without excluding qualified bidders and their employees. In 2020, construction awards to minority- and women-owned firms exceeded the 10.4 percent goals by achieving 20.6 percent. Sections of this legislation will make DCAMM’s efforts harder, not easier, and should be struck.