The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, November 23, 2012

Judge makes PLAs legal, again

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

Project labor agreements in Michigan continue to be caught in a revolving door of litigation and legislation– but for now, a federal judge’s ruling has made them legal, again.

Federal Judge Victoria Roberts on Nov. 15 issued a preliminary injunction granting a request by the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council to halt enforcement of a state law that outlaws construction project labor agreements that involve the use of state taxpayer dollars.

“The judge got it right,” said building trades attorney John Canzano. “She essentially followed her original ruling and issued a preliminary injunction against it.”

Republican lawmakers have had it in for PLAs since they took total control of the levers of power in Lansing two years ago, but they haven’t quite been able to get a PLA ban past the courts. They have maintained that banning state or local PLAs would provide a savings to taxpayers because of greater competition.

The Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council has pointed to numerous studies which indicate the PLAs are a business tool that don’t increase costs, and has maintained that the GOP simply wants to continue its quest to punish the state’s unions in favor of nonunion supporters like the Associated Builders and Contractors.

Project labor agreements, which vary from job to job, usually offer labor collectively bargained wages and benefits, defined working and overtime provisions and no lockouts in exchange for no strikes, alcohol, drug and safety testing and defined scheduling and shift provisions for employers. PLAs are in use on numerous public and private projects and are often seen as a valuable business tool.

The first action the GOP took against PLAs was Public Act 98, adopted along party lines in the summer of 2011 and signed by Gov. Snyder. PA 98 outlawed project labor agreements for both state- and locally-funded construction projects.

The Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council appealed passage of the law before U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts, claiming that federal labor law allowed the use of PLAs; trumping state law. In a ruling handed down in February, Judge Roberts agreed with the union position, and struck down the state law. Republican Attorney General Bill Schuettte appealed her ruling, and that case is pending in a federal appeals court.

However, in an attempt to find a more timely legal way around the failed PA 98, Snyder in June signed what would become Public Act 238, which tweaked the original law, Canzano said, but doesn’t substantially differ from it.  “Ultimately, I think a judge is going to rule the same way, that this law shouldn’t stand because it isn’t significantly changed from the first law.”

The Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council requested that Judge Roberts issue an injunction against enforcement of PA 238, and she granted it.

“What her ruling means is that PLAs are legal again in Michigan,” Canzano said. “Now, what the Legislature might try to do to ‘fix’ this ruling, is anybody’s guess.”