When you’re driving by a construction site, do you ever wonder how all those moving parts meld together in an organized and coherent effort?
How do all those construction workers seem to approach the task with a single-mindedness that later results in a grand new structure? On a well-run project, the secret is a Project Labor Agreement.
Project Labor Agreements (PLA) bring order and specific responsibility to public construction projects. PLAs are binding agreements that call for collective bargaining between labor and contractors. In addition, they define the terms and conditions applicable to all workers – union and nonunion — on public construction projects.
It’s what they deliver – an agreed-upon concerted outcome – that makes them so effective. They provide stability to larger construction projects while ensuring compliance with workplace safety and health laws, wage protection and equal opportunity.
The Township of Parsippany and its taxpayers can see the benefits of a PLA throughout the state of New Jersey. Many counties and municipalities in the state have supported Project Labor Agreements, including Morris County.
PLAs have existed since the 1930s because their components provide cohesion to each project.
Stability and Predictability.
PLAs add order by clearly defining each contractor and craft worker’s responsibility. They address labor issues, designate cost standards, prevent shutdowns and are mindful of maintaining completion schedules. Construction sites might seem chaotic to outsiders, as trades work independently. PLAs provide coordination and leadership to this process while acting as a mediator to prevent any disputes.
During the construction cycle, there is little that decision makers – municipal leaders, developers, builders and contractors – find more problematic than misunderstanding and chaos. They both lead to an argumentative merry-go-round affecting timelines, costs and effective management. PLAs virtually eliminate these issues, often beforehand, because the solid relationship between labor and management prevent tension from escalating.
Diversity and Local Jobs
Nothing helps a project gain allies with public officials and the community at large than promoting the hiring of workers that are local constituents. And when a project can attract women or minorities, both of whom the industry has underserved, their enthusiasm increases. PLAs can vigorously encourage hiring efforts from small businesses, minority contractors and local workers while emphasizing government-required safety training. For example, a PLA can stipulate that a worker has undergone and obtained OSHA certification. This reinforces the “safety first” attitude of the workers and reduces accidents.
Training and Advancement
Most contractors want the most highly skilled, well-trained worker available. PLAs pay considerable dividends by preventing costly errors and accidents because of their emphasis on training. Union carpenters, for example, spend a minimum of four years with in-class and real-work experience before becoming a journeyperson. Union members are continuously trained in ever shifting 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 the residents of New Jersey.
Some anti-PLA rhetoric denounces PLAs by spawning myths.
- PLAs apply only to union workers.They apply to union and nonunion workers, and they don’t mandate that workers must join a union.
- Some critics claim that PLAs reduce the number of bidders on public projects, thus raising costs. A 2020 study in the “Public Works Management & Policy” journal reviewed 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 PLAs did not alter the number of bidders on a project.
Why do PLAs myths exist, and why do certain companies object to using PLAs? It’s simple. Because some companies want to reduce the competition. Without PLAs, they can skirt hiring mandates, disregard the need for certified skills among workers, and ignore efforts to provide job opportunities or training for women and minorities. Yet all these reasons pale against the most frequent motivation: worker exploitation. Worker exploitation is rampant in the construction industry. The unethical practice of paying below standard wages or paying workers off the books is eliminated when entities utilize a project labor agreement.
The core value that PLAs offer is transparency. It is a public document. Anyone can review it – municipal officials, organizations, construction companies and the general public – to assess whether the agreement is fair and makes sound business sense. Indeed, it raises the obvious question of why anyone would not support a PLA.
PLAs remain the fairest, most transparent and productive approach for conducting business in Parsippany and Morris County’s construction industry. It also benefits taxpayers because PLAs control costs and ensure the availability of highly skilled talent for all local building projects.
And the added benefit in Parsippany and throughout New Jersey is that thousands of union trades people, with the best training in the industry, are prepared to meet any construction needs.
Cyndie Williams, Director, Carpenter Contractor Trust
Editor’s Note: The Carpenter Contractor Trust (CCT) is a labor-management trust formed to bond the relationship between the trained talents of union carpenters and their qualified signatory contractors to gain market share within the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters.