Before the use of project labor agreements, Cedar Rapids residents could drive by the parking lot of any public works construction site and see row upon row of out-of-state license plates. These out-of-state workers were regularly funneled in as cheap labor to work on Iowa taxpayer-funded construction projects, leaving Iowa workers unemployed and taking money away from local economies.
A primary benefit of PLAs has always been to increase the number of local workers hired, regardless of their union status. PLAs ensure that Iowa workers are hired for local jobs, boosting both employment rates and local Iowa economies.
Contrary to recent rhetoric from special interest groups, PLAs are vital tools that can ensure Iowans get the most bang out of each tax dollar spent on public construction projects. They promote the timely and on-budget completion of projects, while also ensuring that Iowans are the first to receive the well-paying jobs created by projects — a well-deserved benefit since the projects are funded by Iowan tax dollars.
In a recent column (“Agreements are playing favorites,” March 1), a local contractor repeated many of the myths and falsehoods special interests often allege against PLAs. The fact remains that any contractor, regardless of union affiliation, may bid for a PLA project. If a contractor refuses to bid on a PLA project, this is a voluntary decision on behalf of that contractor, not a prohibition imposed by a PLA. Indeed, Iowa PLAs contain specific provisions to accommodate and encourage all contractors, regardless of union status, to bid on each and every PLA project. Whether a contractor’s refusal to bid is ideologically driven or based on a business decision, the fact remains it is a discretionary decision made by that contractor.
Further, PLAs will never take away an employee’s choice not to join a union. In fact, PLAs not only do not reduce an employee’s choices, they expand upon them. On PLA projects, non-union workers can choose if they want to keep their employer’s fringe benefits or switch to the ones offered under the PLA, which are generally more expansive and of higher quality. If the author is worried about his employees’ choices, PLAs are the answer to his concern, not the problem.
Finally, nothing prevents a non-union contractor from using their existing non-union workforce to work on a PLA project. PLAs explicitly allow for contractors to retain their “core” workforce for any PLA project. It is in instances where contractors hire additional workers that PLAs come into play, mandating contractors hire out of Iowa hiring halls rather than selecting the cheapest out of state worker available. The additional amount of jobs that a PLA can provide to local residents is substantial. Research has found that the number of local residents working on projects with PLAs can be at least 67 percent more than on projects without PLAs. In Iowa, a PLA was attributed to be the cause for one construction project in Mitchellville having an estimated 99 percent Iowan workforce, while another project with the same contractor in Iowa City only had an estimated 40 percent Iowan workforce.
The truth about PLAs is that they are valuable tools that can provide real benefits to Iowa taxpayers. In addition to promoting the timely and on-budget completion of projects, perhaps the most significant benefit that PLAs provide is jobs for Iowa taxpayers. PLAs can ensure that Iowans and the Iowa economy are the first to benefit from any jobs created by a public construction project, even if an out-of-state contractor is ultimately awarded the contract.
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This discussion is not a battle between union and non-union employers. PLAs help all Iowa workers, Iowa businesses and Iowa taxpayers. Time and again, PLAs have proved to ensure the timeliness of projects, control costs, and provide well-paying jobs to Iowa taxpayers regardless of union affiliation. Iowans deserve Iowa workers for Iowa taxpayer-funded projects. PLAs provide this. Accept nothing less.
• Patrick Loeffler is president of the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Building Trades Council.