When driving near a construction site, have you ever wondered how all those moving parts come together in an organized and cohesive effort?
How do all these construction workers seem to approach the task with a determination that later results in a grand new structure? On a well-managed project, the secret is a project working agreement.
Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) bring order and specific accountability to public construction projects. PLAs are binding agreements that call for collective bargaining between workers and contractors. In addition, they define the conditions applicable to all workers – unionized and non-unionized – on public construction sites.
It’s what they produce – an agreed concerted outcome – that makes them so effective. They ensure the stability of major construction projects while guaranteeing compliance with laws on occupational safety and health, wage protection and equal opportunity.
The Township of Parsippany and its ratepayers can see the benefits of a PLA statewide in New Jersey. Many counties and municipalities across the state supported the project’s working agreements, including Morris County.
PLAs have existed since the 1930s because their components ensure the cohesion of each project.
Stability and predictability.
PLAs add order by clearly defining the responsibility of each contractor and tradesperson. They resolve labor issues, designate cost standards, prevent shutdowns, and monitor completion schedules. Construction sites can seem chaotic to outsiders, as the trades work independently. The PLAs coordinate and lead this process while acting as mediators to prevent any disputes.
During the construction cycle, there is nothing that decision makers – city leaders, developers, builders and contractors – find more problematic than misunderstanding and chaos. They both lead to an argumentative merry-go-round affecting time, cost and management efficiency. PLAs virtually eliminate these problems, often in advance, because the strong relationship between workers and management prevents the tension from escalating.
Diversity and local jobs
Nothing helps a project gain allies with officials and the community at large than promoting the hiring of workers who are local voters. And when a project can attract women or minorities, which the industry has underserved, their enthusiasm increases. PLAs can vigorously encourage the hiring efforts of small businesses, minority contractors, and local workers while emphasizing government-mandated safety training. For example, a PLA may state that a worker has undergone and obtained OSHA certification. This reinforces the “safety first” attitude of workers and reduces accidents.
Training and advancement
Most contractors want the most qualified and trained worker available. PLAs pay huge dividends by avoiding costly mistakes and accidents due to the emphasis on training. Union carpenters, for example, spend at least four years with classroom and real-world experience before becoming a journeyman. Union members are continually trained in ever-changing technologies in the construction industry. Across all building trades, 150,000 union members work with thousands of contractors to build the best quality product for New Jersey residents.
Some anti-APL discourse denounces the APL by generating myths.
- PLAs only apply to unionized workers. They apply to unionized and non-unionized workers, and they do not require workers to join a union.
- Some critics claim that PLAs reduce the number of bidders on public projects, thereby increasing costs. A 2020 study in the journal “Public Works Management & Policy” examined 263 bid openings for community college construction in California from 2007 to 2016. This first-ever study of its kind concluded that the presence or Absence of APL did not alter the number of bidders on a project.
Why are there myths about PLA and why do some companies oppose the use of PLA? It’s simple. Because some companies want to reduce competition. Without PLA, they can circumvent hiring mandates, ignore the need for certified skills among workers, and ignore efforts to provide employment or training opportunities for women and minorities. Yet all these reasons pale in comparison to the most frequent motivation: worker exploitation. Exploitation of workers is rampant in the construction industry. The unethical practice of paying below standard wages or paying workers off the books is eliminated when entities use a project labor agreement.
The core value offered by PLAs is transparency. It is a public act. Anyone can review it – city officials, organizations, construction companies and the general public – to assess whether the deal is fair and commercially sound. Indeed, this raises the obvious question of why anyone would want to not support a PLA.
PLAs remain the fairest, most transparent and productive approach to doing business in the Parsippany and Morris County construction industry. It also benefits taxpayers, as PLAs control costs and ensure the availability of highly skilled talent for all local construction projects.
And the added benefit in Parsippany and throughout New Jersey is that thousands of unionized workers, with the best training in the industry, are ready to meet any construction need.
Cyndie Williams, Director, Carpenter Contractor Trust
Editor’s Note: The Carpenter Contractors Trust (CCT) is a union-management trust created to bind the relationship between the trained talents of unionized carpenters and their qualified signatory subcontractors in order to gain market share in the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters.