A troubling development could jeopardize much-needed development-and the construction jobs that come with it-in the Rochester area. Taxpayer-supported contracts should always be about the best work at the best price. However, local policymakers have indicated they may deny taxpayers the best value for their construction dollars, signaling that they may require (or are requiring) contractors to sign wasteful and discriminatory project labor agreements or fulfill onerous training mandates in order to work on these projects.
A PLA is a contract negotiated between a government entity, a project owner or a construction manager and labor unions. A typical PLA requires contractors to recognize the signatory unions as the sole representatives of workers on the covered project, to hire workers exclusively through union hiring halls, to hire apprentices only through union apprenticeship programs and to contribute to union pension and benefit plans.
Despite some claims to the contrary, these requirements are nothing more than handouts to one politically connected special interest group, big labor. PLAs and the unnecessarily burdensome apprenticeship requirements are designed to ensure that only union labor has the opportunity to work on construction projects. When public officials place these requirements on projects, they essentially preclude the 75 percent of local construction workers who choose not to join a labor organization from competing for projects funded by their own tax dollars.
Unfortunately for local taxpayers, the discrimination inherent in these types of agreements is not the end of the story. Numerous third-party studies show that PLAs have a record of increasing costs by roughly 18 percent when required on public construction projects. In New York, a 2006 study conducted by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University found that PLAs add an estimated $27 per square foot to the bid cost of construction (in 2004 prices), representing a cost increase of almost 20 percent in comparison with the average non-PLA project.
With local families as well as state and local governments grappling with significant budget deficits and crippling unemployment, now is the worst possible time to reward special interest groups at the expense of hardworking taxpayers.
Dramatically increased construction costs and lost opportunities for workers are simply too high a price to pay to reward special interest groups for their connections and influence. It is our right to demand accountability from our elected officials-and from project owners taking public money. Open competition is the basis for good decisions.
Contact your local elected officials and encourage them to do the right thing for taxpayers. By opening the door to all contractors, they can help keep the competition up and project costs down. And as taxpayers, all worthy companies should have a fair shot at earning business when public money is involved.
Marci Miller is Rochester regional vice president of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc.
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