Guest Columnists

Project labor agreements play favorites

Construction at the intersection of 12th Avenue SE and Third Street SE in New Bohemia on Monday, April 18, 2011, in Cedar Rapids.  (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Construction at the intersection of 12th Avenue SE and Third Street SE in New Bohemia on Monday, April 18, 2011, in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

In the Corridor, across the state of Iowa, and indeed all over the country, we have an unmistakable need to put taxpayer dollars to work in the most efficient way possible to get all forms of our public infrastructure up to the world-class standard that America deserves.

Public projects come in all shapes and sizes. Flood walls and levees may be of obvious interest to our community, but so are highway improvements and school renovations. Whatever we fund through taxpayer dollars should be executed by people who offer the best skills at the most competitive price. To accept anything but the highest-quality work at the best price the market can offer is to waste money that comes straight out of the pockets of hardworking people here in our own community.

That’s why it is so important for Iowa to hold the line against any government mandates that would choke off competition for public projects. One of the ways government can overreach is to impose project labor agreements (PLAs) on public project bids.

Despite their neutral-sounding name, project labor agreements are a tool used to tip the scales in favor of big unions with lots of political influence. PLAs effectively force every contractor and subcontractor to bend their work rules and prices to fit a national union model.

In my opinion, the worst component of a PLA is the requirement for a contractor to hire its workforce through a labor union. If I were to bid on such a project, the fact that I would not be able to put my own employees to work is wrong. My employees live here, pay taxes here, and are active in our community. They should not be kept from working on public projects simply because they have voluntarily made the choice not to belong to a union.

We in the Cedar Rapids area are all too familiar with the discriminatory nature of PLAs. Unfortunately, under the leadership of Mayor Ron Corbett, the City of Cedar Rapids has pursued the use of PLAs on local projects. I employ over 125 employees in the area, many of them residents of Cedar Rapids. The city’s discussion over the use of PLAs on local projects never included an analysis about how my employees would be affected.

Cedar Rapids has a wide range of capable contractors, subcontractors, and individuals working across the skilled trades — some are unionized, many are not. The discipline of market competition should decide who wins the jobs and provides the work. I have never once thought of asking any level of government to give my company an advantage when bidding — however, I do expect an open and fair process. PLAs are neither.


The Iowa Legislature is considering legislation that would prohibit the use of PLAs on any public project. I am extremely grateful that legislators going to stand up and protect the 82 percent of Iowa workers who choose not to belong to a labor union.

This does nothing to keep union contractors from bidding on taxpayer funded projects. It simply makes sure all qualified vendors are legitimately able to compete for the work.

Keeping project labor agreements out of the way of Corridor-area public projects should be a common goal among all of us who expect government to treat our tax dollars like their own.

• Jeremy Price is the owner of Price Industrial Electric and a member of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Iowa.



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