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BusINess » Business Government Workforce » Local building unions make a play for PLAs with municipalities, developers

Local building unions make a play for PLAs with municipalities, developers

A Northwest Indiana group representing unionized building and construction trade workers has a New Year’s resolution to secure more job commitments for its members.

The Northwestern Indiana Building & Construction Trades Council will ramp up its lobbying of municipal officials and even private developers to establish project labor agreements. With construction forecasts showing stagnant activity in the new year and declining union ranks, the labor movement is attempting to gather as much work as it can to tackle significant unemployment.

Business Manager Randy Palmateer said agreements typically require employers to pay workers at Indiana’s prevailing wage and commit to employing local building trades workers. Workers for their part commit to not engage in a strike or work stoppage. He said Dyer, Hammond and Portage are among municipalities that have ordinances requiring certain public works projects to have a project labor agreement with the Building & Construction Trades Council.

“The (council) applauds communities that have had the foresight to pass ordinances to ensure a local work force is used (when spending) our tax dollars,” Palmateer said.

Although opposition to the effort is likely, Palmateer said he’d like to see project labor agreements in every city and town in Lake, Porter, Newton and Jasper counties, the area the council covers.

These types of agreements have garnered attention at the federal level, even though they have been a part of projects for decades. President Barack Obama issued an executive order last year lifting a ban on them and encouraging federal agencies to use project labor agreements on construction projects valued at more than $25 million. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn gave an executive order in March offering state agencies the opportunity to enter into project labor agreements on a case-by-case basis.

Palmateer, who also sits on the Crown Point Redevelopment Commission and Center Township Board, said these agreements ensure that personnel on job sites are trained adequately and are drug-free, and that projects come in on time and under budget.

J.R. Gaylor, president and CEO of the Indiana chapter of Associated Builders & Contractors Inc., disputed Palmateer’s assertions, saying a project labor agreement doesn’t provide anything a contractor doesn’t expect already.

Gaylor, whose organization represents merit shop contractors, said he isn’t against private developers deciding to forge project labor agreements with organized labor. But when working on municipal projects, he doesn’t agree with a majority of contractors in the state being locked out of the bidding process and taxpayers having to pay more money for the project.

“But in the public setting, where taxpayers are the owner, there’s no value in these (project labor agreements) for the taxpayers,” Gaylor said. “They only increase prices significantly.

“Responsible bidders should get public works (projects). The best person with the best price should get the job. There shouldn’t be a backroom deal based on political decisions.”

On a statewide level, Gaylor said he doesn’t see much ground being gained on project labor agreements. He estimates there are about 17,000 contractors in Indiana, about 11 percent of which collectively bargain with a union.

But Palmateer said without these protections, contractors would engage in a “race to the bottom” and local workers would lose the opportunity to earn fair compensation.

What is a project labor agreement, or PLA?

Project labor agreements are pre-hire collective bargaining agreements in construction that establish the basic terms and conditions of employment during the project. The agreement is binding for all construction employers operating on the project site.

Agreements typically require employers to pay workers at Indiana’s prevailing wage and commit to employing local building trades workers, and workers are prevented from engaging in a strike or work stoppage. The deals also can contain requirements for general contractors and subcontractors to meet with the union prior to the start of construction and call for uniform work schedules for employees.

Who has signed on to PLAs?

Several municipal public works and governmental agencies locally have active project labor agreements with the Northwestern Indiana Building & Construction Trades Council:

East Chicago, Dyer, Gary, the Gary Housing Authority, Hammond, the School City of Hammond, Hobart, Lake County, Lake Station, Merrillville, the Merrillville Conservancy Board, Portage, and Portage Township Schools.

Note: Conditions of which projects may require a project labor agreement may differ among entities.

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