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PLAs Result in Water Shooting Out of Dorm Toilets & 'Shoddy Work' in Mass.



The Joint Committee on State Administration is hearing testimony on legislation to permit project labor agreements on public projects in Massachusetts. The MCA's written testimony

in opposition to the legislation follows:


The Merit Construction Alliance of Massachusetts, Inc., a trade association representing merit shop building contractors, writes in opposition to H.3012 and S.2027. Please consider some of what project labor agreements have brought the Commonwealth and its taxpayers:


· UMass Boston: “In the first weeks of school, dorm elevators abruptly fell several floors with students inside. Water shot out of one toilet when you flushed another, students reported. The rooms are often stifling hot, but the showers are frigid.” (Source: Boston Magazine, Nov. 12, 2018.)


· The Big Dig: "Not only have taxpayers paid for shoddy work, they are now paying for the repairs," then State Auditor Joseph DeNucci said. (Source: "Audit: Pike should Dig deeper to recover $$," The Boston Herald, July 31, 2007.)


· Worcester’s Garage Mahal: The cities of Worcester and Lowell both completed $21 million parking garages in 2007. Worcester built 503 parking spaces, while Lowell built 900 spaces. Unlike Lowell, the Worcester project used only union contractors and labor to get 45% fewer spaces in what the Telegram & Gazette dubbed the “Garage Mahal.” (Source: Telegram & Gazette, May 29, 2007.)


PLAs are about creating a monopoly for organized labor, which represents only 16 percent of the construction workforce in Massachusetts, according to the Union Membership and Coverage Database at www.unionstats.com. PLAs do not guarantee worker pay rates, benefits and safety, all of which are governed by existing law. They do not ensure qualified and experienced contractors on public projects as those prequalification and certification systems are already in place. It’s not about diversity, equity and inclusion as most minority and women contractors and tradespeople are non-union and would not abandon their own employees to work on a PLA project with a temporary union workforce. And this is certainly not about fair and open competition to ensure the taxpayers receive the best value – those laws are in place and this legislation would undo it.


In actuality, PLAs reduce competition, increase costs, and provide none of the alleged benefits. They do not guarantee quality and workmanship, deadlines or cost – as witnessed with the Big Dig and UMass Boston. That’s why 25 states prohibit PLAs by statute.


PLAs reduce competition, which leads to increased costs, by as much as 20 percent according to studies of PLA projects. For example, a study of Connecticut school construction found PLAs raised the final costs by 19.84 percent. (The Effects of Project Labor Agreements on School Construction in Connecticut, by Burke and Tuerk, January 2020.)


Lowell City Manager Eileen Donoghue, a former State Senator from that city, advised the Lowell City Council against pursuing a PLA in a May 23, 2019, memo. "According to our consultant a PLA would add 10-15% onto construction costs. With an estimated $270.5 million in construction costs, this would equate to $27-40.5 million added to the project, exclusively funded by the City and residents."


Studies aside, there are real-life instances where we can fairly compare construction projects with and without PLAs on the same projects. These are cases where a project was first bid under a PLA, and then rebid with the PLA lifted. Without a PLA, the number of qualified bidders increased and the bid prices dropped.


· In 2021, a superior court judge ordered the Town of Braintree to drop a PLA on a school building project. Filed sub bids were rebid, and the total of the bids dropped by $1.1 million. With a PLA, Braintree received 40 sub bids and no bid on electrical work. Without the PLA, Braintree received 62 bids, including three for electrical. In nine of the 14 trades, the bid prices dropped after the PLA was removed.

· After a PLA was scrapped on a federal project in Manchester, N.H., the number of general contractor bidders jumped from three to nine. A New Hampshire-based merit shop won with a bid $6 million less than the first winning bidder, a Florida-based union contractor.

· Fall River attempted a PLA on five school projects in 2005. After several rounds with a sparse number of bidders, whose bids were millions over budget, the mayor rescinded the PLA. Rebid and open to all qualified contractors, the number of bidders doubled and bids plummeted. Then-Mayor Edward M. Lambert told the Herald-News, “With more bidders, you tend to get a better price.”


PLAs impede efforts to increase diversity of the workforce. Most DCAMM-certified MWBE contractors are merit shops. PLAs would block them from bidding and working on the project. The 2010 DCAMM Disparity Study quoted a construction-firm owner as saying: “You find very few of these companies that are union. Okay. And there are lots of MWBE companies out there, but you can’t access them if you’re doing a union job because people tend not to go union.”


Skanska Building USA advised Worcester officials against a PLA on Polar Park construction. “Historically, the unions are not as able to guarantee a diverse workforce,” Skanska wrote. (Even without a PLA, organized labor and union contractors failed to meet diversity goals in building Polar Park, and the union contractors paid millions in fines for misreporting diversity hiring data.)


Most recently, on the Holyoke Veterans Home, the PLA included a carve out to allow merit shop minority- and women-owned construction firms to use their own employees if they won, rather than be forced to use union labor. This makes our point. PLAs restrict access by qualified bidders. If organized labor alone could achieve diversity goals, why the carve out for MWBEs? The path to inclusion is fair and open bidding by more, not fewer contractors.


The only remaining logical reason for proposing PLAs in Massachusetts is to reduce competition and create a monopoly for organized labor. The little-known reality is organized labor represented only 16% of the construction workforce in Massachusetts in 2022. In other words, 84% of Massachusetts tradespeople choose to work for merit shops. (Source: Union Membership and Coverage Database.) A PLA would lock them out of public projects unless they joined organized labor – which they are already free to do but choose not to.


Merit shops employ talented and experienced craftspeople who are highly trained and fully licensed in their trade. They take pride in their work and strive to deliver high quality. They receive competitive pay and benefits, including health care, employer-paid vacation and sick days, as well as holidays, and receive matching contributions to retirement plans. Merit shops value apprenticeships and have the largest number of construction apprenticeship program in the state. Merit shops are committed to safety, provide on the job training, and the opportunity for career advancement.


We support every worker’s right to decide for themselves which system – union or merit shop – works best for them. We ask the Legislature to support the individual right of freedom of association guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. In the Janus v. AFSCME, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a public employee cannot be compelled to join organized labor as a condition of employment. The same, then, should be true for the employees of contractors working on public projects. They should not be compelled by state law to join organized labor, even temporarily, in order to work on a public project they are supporting with their tax dollars.

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