The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, August 26, 2011

Trades seek to overturn still warm anti-PLA law

By The Building Tradesman

The so-called “Fair and Open Competition in Government Contracting Act” is not fair and adversely affects the ability of contractors signatory to collective bargaining agreements from winning work.

That’s one of the legal legs that the Michigan Building and Construction Trades will stand on as its attorney, John Canzano, wasted no time filing a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn a new state law that prevents state and local units of government from entering into project labor agreements.

Gov. Rick Snyder signed Public Act 98 of 2011 into law on July 19. As the legislation moved through the Michigan House and Senate, the building trades and their contractors maintained that the law would create some blatant grounds for a legal challenge. Perhaps the largest obstacle to the Michigan law is the 1993 Boston Harbor case, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that local units of government cannot be denied the ability to enter into PLAs.

In general, project labor agreements can be employed on both public and private construction projects. They usually set terms of employment between owners, contractors and workers in areas related to hours, shift premiums, wage and benefits packages, and often, safety and skills requirements. They also usually require no strikes or lockouts.

Building trades unions maintain PLAs are simply business tools for owners to have more control and assurance over the numerous variables that may involve multi-million dollar construction projects on their property.

Nonunion contractors like the Associated Builders and Contractors – who lobbied hard to have their Republican lawmaker friends adopt this legislation – contend that PLAs are exclusionary and costly to taxpayers.

The building trades’ lawsuit is throwing other legal protests into the mix. Part of their argument is the law violates contract language in the National Labor Relations Act.

Part of the building trades’ complaint reads: “The prohibition in 2011 P.A. 98 against employees in the construction industry seeking to negotiate and implement project labor agreements and other pre-hire agreements through their bargaining representatives for use on public works projects in the state of Michigan also constitutes impermissible state interference with the ‘free play of economic forces’ that Congress intended to govern construction industry labor relations.”

“There are some major legal problems with the state law, and it sounds as if we have a good standing to get this overturned,” said Patrick Devlin, sectetary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council.