The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, July 15, 2011

Anti-PLA bill adopted; has greater use as a scare tactic

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING – Michigan House Republicans adopted a Senate bill on June 30 that (sort of) takes away the ability of local lawmakers to enter into project labor agreements (PLAs) on state-funded construction projects.

The bill outlaws contract terms between local governments and contractors that “requires, prohibits, encourages, or discourages bidders, contractors, or subcontractors from entering into or adhering to agreements with a collective bargaining organization relating to the construction project or other related construction projects.”

The bill was adopted along a party line vote in the state Senate, with 26 Republicans for and 12 Democrats against. Earlier, it was also a straight party line vote in the Michigan House, with 62 Republicans for and 47 Democrats against. The conservative think-tank Mackinac Center for Public Policy reported that Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign the bill.

“I have seen first-hand how PLAs can help spur economic growth and development, and revitalize a community,” said State Rep. Joan Bauer (D-Lansing), who served as a member of the Lansing City Council for 11 years. “They also help resolve difficult employment issues and ensure projects are completed on time, which saves taxpayer dollars in the long run. While I certainly understand that some communities do not support PLAs, the Legislature should not replace a voluntary agreement with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy. This will only erode local control and hurt communities that use PLAs to boost their economy and support their workers.”

As we reported in our last edition, the bill has invited some head scratching. A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court already established the right of local units of government to enter into project labor agreements through the Boston Harbor case.

And the bill itself says state law says it does not “Prohibit employers or other parties from entering into agreements or engaging in any other activity protected by the National Labor Relations Act,” or “Interfere with labor relations of parties that are protected under the National Labor Relations Act.” Unless the state wants to take on a unanimous Supreme Court precedent, the law clearly conflicts with the NLRA.

Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council attorney John Canzano pointed out the legal problem with the law, and said its real purpose may be to scare local governing authorities away from entering into PLAs.

That’s how Guy Snyder of Michigan Construction sees it. “It’s a bad law but it looks like we missed its fundamental purpose,” he wrote. “It may be to empower open shop organizations, such as the Associated Builders and Contractors, to intimidate state, county and local project owners by threatening court action.”

This law is likely headed for an appeal in the courts.

“We’ll have to wait to see if this will be overturned at some point,” said Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney. “But this PLA law is just one of many right-wing pieces of legislation approved by majority Republicans that have taken away rights of Michigan construction workers, firefighters, police officers, teachers, government employees and others.”

The anti-PLA measure is the first to strike this year directly at construction unions, but there are a litany of anti-labor bills in the hopper of state Republicans – and they have already made Michigan the first state to permanently reduce unemployment benefit levels from 26 weeks to 20 weeks.

“This plan severely limits the flexibility and freedom that our local governments need to get the best value out of taxpayer dollars to stimulate economic development,” said State Representative Thomas Stallworth III (D-Detroit). “While PLAs are not necessary for every project, this plan would essentially take that option away for all public projects. PLAs help save taxpayer dollars, ensure that construction projects are done right from beginning to end and protect our workers by improving scheduling, workplace safety and training. As lawmakers, we must protect taxpayer dollars from being wasted on substandard work that puts the safety of our communities and workers at risk. For those reasons, and more, I simply could not support this plan.”