The committee chairman who recently steered a controversial collective bargaining bill through the House hopes to follow up soon with legislation that would restrict union labor contracts for state-funded construction projects.

Rep. Joe Uecker (R-Loveland), chairman of the House Commerce & Labor Committee, said Thursday that he would likely schedule a few more hearings before holding a vote on  Rep. Ron Young’s (R-Leroy) proposal to prohibit agencies from requiring project labor agreements (PLAs) for construction projects (HB102). 

The chairman said he believed there was enough support among Republicans on the panel to advance the bill and pointed to the vote Wednesday evening to accept a substitute version, which Democrats unanimously opposed. “That vote pretty much lays it out that we’re supporting it.”

Rep. Uecker said in an interview that he believed the testimony showed that preventing state agencies and local governments that get state assistance from requiring PLAs would save money on public construction projects.

“I think anytime that you have a contract that says you can only have a certain section of any industry is allowed to bid, I think you’ve got a discriminatory type of problem there,” he said. “You can’t discriminate against somebody just because they don’t belong to a union, which is what a PLA does. 

During the hearing, attorney N. Victor Goodman, who represents the Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council said many major corporations willingly use PLAs to ensure a steady flow of skilled labor, simplify work rules, and prevent disputes 

“The council believes that government officials should be free, on a project-by-project basis, to enter into project labor agreements when those agreements would further the government’s interest in purchasing high-quality and cost-effective construction services,” he said 

“Such decisions are best made by the government officials purchasing the construction services, and this bill’s removal of that discretion unnecessarily hampers public officials,” he said.

Testifying in support of the bill, Fred Horner, owner of a non-union roofing business in Massillon, told members that he never bids on projects involving PLAs because he would have to accept any workers the union hall sends him while his own employees have to wait at the end of the line as temporary union members.

“Once I sign a PLA agreement, I’m going to lose control of my people. Once I lose control of my people, I’m going to bid higher,” he said. “They are a waste of taxpayer dollars and it is closing the door on 85% of employers in this state.”

Mr. Goodman described the bill as an attempt to make “cosmetic changes” to legislation Rep. Young sponsored in 1999 that the Ohio Supreme Court subsequently struck down as an unconstitutional violation of the National Labor Relations Act.

“Simply amending the language of an unconstitutional statute to say that the state can neither ‘require’ nor ‘prohibit’ a PLA does not change its effect,” he said. “Let there be no doubt that this bill prohibits public sector PLAs at the state level and is therefore unconstitutional.”

Chairman Uecker said he believed there was a substantive difference in that the new proposal would block public contracting entities from requiring or prohibiting PLAs on state-funded construction.

The substitute bill adopted Wednesday includes intent language designed to help underscore that point, he said. “You can’t say ‘no PLAs’ and you can’t say ‘only PLAs.’”

Rep. Uecker said possibility of a successful legal challenge is not sufficient to deter the legislature from pursuing what it believes is good public policy.

“One thing I’ve come to know in my years of working with the legislature and with state government is nothing’s unconstitutional until the Supreme Court says it is,” he said. “I will not purport to guess what any Supreme Court, state or U.S., would rule on any constitutional issue.”

Controversy over PLAs flared most recently at the Ohio School Facilities Commission. Earlier this year the agency under Gov. John Kasich reversed a Strickland-era policy that allowed local school districts to require PLAs.

Members of the House Commerce Committee also heard from New Boston Local Schools Superintendent Mike Staggs, who said OSFC stalled a school construction project after the board ignored the former director’s urging to adopt a PLA.

“In our county, if we sign a PLA, one contractor is going to get that job,” he said. “That person can basically name his price.”