City of Worcester, MA in the winter

Impact - Project Labor Agreements

The Issue PLAs

A construction crane at workOnce the City Manager, the City Council, the School Superintendent and the School Committee approved the construction of a new vocational school on Bell Hill, local construction unions requested that it be built under a Project Labor Agreement (PLA), that is, a prehire collective bargaining agreement setting the terms of employment on an entire construction project. A number of area contractors objected on the ground that although they were graduates of Worcester Vocational High School, they would be excluded from the opportunity to work on its replacement building simply because they were not union members and did not wish to join a union. Given the magnitude of this project (costing over $100 million), the employment opportunities its construction would generate, and the controversy that ensued over the City Manager's proposal to attach a PLA to the construction specifications, the Research Bureau prepared a study discussing the case for and against Project Labor Agreements. Based on our extensive analysis of the literature, legal opinions, and Congressional testimony on the use of PLAs on public construction projects, the Research Bureau drew the following conclusions:

The Results

The evidence in the Research Bureau report was used extensively by the Merit Construction Alliance, the statewide organization of non-union contractors, and local non-union firms to plead their case to be allowed to bid on the project. The project manager concluded that the Vocational School project was not of significant scope or complexity, and requiring a PLA on this project would probably not survive a court challenge. Thus, the school is being built without a PLA, and by all accounts, the construction has gone smoothly. More recently, the $600 million City Square project proposed by Berkeley Investments for a mixed use development in downtown Worcester will also be built without a PLA. The PLA study is the most frequently downloaded report on the Research Bureau's website, and one for which the Bureau received national recognition by the Governmental Research Association. In addition, we regularly receive calls and emails from across the country about the report. Excerpts have been reprinted in Building Profits, the magazine for construction financial professionals. Most recently, it was cited by columnist Scot Lehigh of the Boston Globe
(May 20, 2005) to argue against the use of PLAs on school construction projects on which the Commonwealth will spend $10 billion over the next four years. PLAs would add about $1.5 billion to those costs for Massachusetts taxpayers.

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