The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, December 07, 2012

Appeal of PLA ruling continues GOP vendetta

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING – Republican state Attorney General Bill Schuette is taking the case against project labor agreements to a higher court – again.

On Nov. 21 Schuette’s office announced that it would appeal a federal court injunction  that prevents the State of Michigan from preventing state and local governments from using project labor agreements in construction contracting. This is the second, similar case this year that the attorney general has brought to the 6thU.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to reinstate the state’s ban on PLAs.

“Attorney General Schuette believes the public contract bidding process should be open and fair, with robust competition that will save taxpayer dollars,” said spokesperson Joy Yearout, via Gongwer News Service.

The AG’s most recent appeal is of a Nov. 15 ruling by federal Judge Victoria Roberts, who issued a preliminary injunction that effectively legalizes, once again, project labor agreements by state and local governments. Roberts granted the injunction after a request by the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council.

State Republican lawmakers in the past 18 months have twice adopted laws banning PLAs. In 2011, Gov. Snyder signed Public Act 98, but the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council appealed the law in federal court, claiming that federal law allows the use of PLAs, trumping state law. Last February, Judge Roberts agreed with the building trades decision. Schuette appealed, and that appeal is still pending.

Meanwhile, state Republicans decided they couldn’t wait for the ruling on that appeal, and adopted a second, slightly different law in June – Public Act 238 –  that they hoped would pass muster with Judge Roberts. It didn’t. The building trades asked Judge Roberts for an injunction against enforcement of that law, which she granted Nov. 15.

“Public Act 238 doesn’t fix the problem that was in the first law,” said Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council attorney John Canzano. “They’re trying to prohibit PLAs across the board, and they can’t do that according to federal labor law.”

PLAs have been successfully been used for years on public and private construction projects. They generally establish wage rates, hours, and usually prohibit strikes or lockouts. The agreements can also include language that spells out required standards for safety or skills training for workers, as well as drug and alcohol testing requirements.

They generally allow the hiring of nonunion contractors, even though most require contractors to be signatory to, or adhere to, a collective bargaining agreement for the term of the project.

PLAs have effectively been used for years by school districts, cities, townships and counties as a business tool to manage major construction projects. State Republicans have justified their nosing into the affairs of local governments with the PLA ban by claiming they cost taxpayers money. That flies in the face of numerous academic studies which say PLAs don’t cost extra.

In addition, two separate independent state findings said eliminating PLAs wouldn’t save the taxpayers anything. “The Department of Technology, Management, and Budget states that there would be no fiscal implications for State of Michigan facility projects,” said a Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency’s bill analysis of PA 98.