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Executive’s Desk: Project labor agreements a sop to unions

Early this year, in the small hours of the morning, the Santa Fe City Council passed legislation requiring a Community Workforce Agreement on all City of Santa Fe construction projects over $500,000.

A Community Workforce Agreement is in essence a thinly disguised project labor agreement (PLA). This is nothing more than a special-interest scheme that discourages competition from nonunion contractors and their workers by requiring a construction project to be awarded only to contractors and subcontractors that agree to recognize unions as the representatives of their employees on that job; use the union hall to obtain workers; obey the union’s restrictive apprenticeship and work rules; and contribute to union pension plans and other funds in which their nonunion employees will never benefit unless they join a union.

The Santa Fe City Council adopted this policy after very little consideration and with no input from the merit shop construction community. Some 92 percent of the construction industry in New Mexico is nonunion. This means that only 8 percent of construction companies in this state can perform on construction contracts over $500,000 for the City of Santa Fe.

NAME: Roxanne Rivera-Wiest
TITLE: President
ORGANIZATION: Associated Builders and Contractors of N.M., Albuquerque

Numerous studies show these types of mandates increase construction costs by as much as 20 percent, which means taxpayers can expect four city buildings for the price of five under this policy. The cost comparisons used to show that project labor agreements save money are invariably based on comparing the cost of doing the job under the agreement or doing the same job using union labor without the agreement. They do not even attempt to compare what the costs would be if union and nonunion contractors were allowed to compete in an open and free market.

Additionally, this policy discriminates against the large majority of construction companies that choose not to join a union. This means that thousands of hard-working New Mexicans will be deprived of the opportunity to work on projects in their own backyard unless they give into Big Labor’s demands.

Currently, there is a fire station being bid in Santa Fe with this mandate. I attended the mandatory pre-construction meeting, and most of the contractors in the room were nonunion. When they questioned why this mandate had been put in place, a city councilor who was in attendance stated that this was to bring in safer workers and ensure fair wages. This is a ludicrous argument. All contractors must adhere to OSHA safety standards, and nowadays most requests for bid on public projects have a requirement for a stringent safety program. In addition, all contractors are required to pay the stated prevailing wage on these contracts.

Another weak argument stated to the contractors who attended the pre-bid meeting was that this project labor agreement would ensure “labor peace.” This rationale for PLAs is a complete fraud but a more complex and compelling one. Strikes take place when a union and an employer fail to reach agreement on a contract. Such problems only occur in a union setting. If avoiding the disruption of work, and therefore costly delays, were the only motivation for project labor agreements, it would make far more sense from a public policy point of view to say that union members cannot be employed on a project. The obvious injustice of such a proposal immediately exposes the injustice inherent in project labor agreements.

Don’t be fooled. This project labor agreement mandate will drive up the cost of public construction projects at great expense to the taxpayers in an uncertain economy while discriminating in hiring 92 percent of construction workers in New Mexico.