Competitive bidding on state projects got a small shot in the arm this week when the House Commerce & Labor Committee passed a bill dealing with project labor agreements (PLAs) along a party line vote. House Bill 102 will ensure state agencies cannot prohibit or require a PLA in bid specifications for public improvement projects. Essentially, this will remove the requirement that a non-union contractor’s workers either join a labor union or pay dues to one, which can drive up the project’s cost as much as twenty to thirty percent.
Under a PLA, the contractor’s non-union workers are sent to the local union hall to “get in line” for the chance to work on the project. This results in the contractor being forced to use union workers instead of its own employees on the project. Additionally, non-union contractors continue to pay their workers’ wages and benefits even though those very workers are replaced by union labor. PLAs also require contractors to pay into the union pension and benefit plans even though their employees will never see the benefits of these contributions given the short duration of most construction projects.
Non-union contractors in favor of HB 102 testified that being forced to use union labor in place of their own employees is one of the reasons they will not bid on state or local construction contracts that have a PLA. The owner of a non-union roofing business in Massillon testified that, “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…They [PLAs] are a waste of taxpayer dollars and it is closing the door on 85 percent of employers in this state.”
HB 102 also would not allow state funds to be used for local government construction projects that either prohibit or require a PLA in the bid specifications. The bill now awaits a vote by the full House.