ONE MAN’S VIEW: PLA ban will kill workers’ wages, lower quality of work

This is the first installment of a new column that I will periodically write to focus on issues — politics, events, people — that directly impact the lives of union members and their families, and indirectly the lives of all working people. We welcome opposing views to our “Letters” column.

THE ISSUE: Driving wages down, putting Missouri workers, and companies, at risk.

To all working Missourians who were taken in by and voted for macho Navy SEAL Eric Greitens, congratulations. You have effectively voted to cut your own wages!

And you can’t say you weren’t warned. As a candidate, he said he would sign a phony “right-to-work (for less)” law and other anti-worker bills. He’s keeping that promise, and now we’ll all feel the pain.

Let’s start with this week’s lead story: telling cities, counties and public bodies like school boards they can’t require a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for projects that include state funding, even if they deem a PLA in their own best interests, which it is. To do so, the entity loses state funding and tax credits.

And let’s make it clear: this PLA ban will negatively impact Missouri contractors and workers, union and non-union alike.

A Project Labor Agreement is a standalone agreement setting the terms of wages and fringe benefits for all occupations on a specific public construction project. It sets standardized work rules and ensures access to a primarily local pool of skilled workers to protect the public investment from unscrupulous contractors and unqualified workers.

If a public entity agrees that it’s an important quality tool to put into its bids for public works, then every contractor knows what their labor costs will be and can bid accordingly. Let’s make it clear, not every public entity agrees to use a PLA, so the choice is theirs.

But why do they want a PLA in the first place? To get value for their taxpayers!

When you have well-trained, skilled union workers on the job, it gets done right the first time and on budget, unless some horrendous issues come up that were not obvious when bids were made. But with very few exceptions, PLA jobs are effective at bringing jobs in on time and often under budget.

Today, St. Louis construction unions spend over $60 million annually in their training programs, money that comes from their members’ paychecks. St. Louis’ training programs are second-to-none and our union-trained tradesworkers are considered among the most PRODUCTIVE in the nation. One report I read said union workers were 21 to 50 percent more productive than non-union workers!

Over the years, the Labor Tribune has published countless stories about union contractors being called in to fix horrendous mistakes made by non-union contractors whose workers have far less training and are less skilled, and it shows in their shoddy work. That’s an added expense public entities face that drives costs higher than if they had let the project to a union contractor and ultimately saved the taxpayers money!

And by the way, a PLA does not guarantee a union contractor will get a job. Non-union contractors can certainly bid, but they must use the prevailing union wage as the basis for their bid.

This means competition is fair… and balanced.

This means that every contractor must bid based on his workers’ productivity and their own management skills, not paying lower wages.

So how will killing PLAs change things?

Without having a base wage rate for all to use in making their bids, non-union contractors from across America will flood into Missouri using their sub-standard wage rates to underbid local union contractors.

That will have many impacts:

  • Many local contractors could go out of business: local jobs lost.
  • To be competitive, they will ask their unions to lower wages: paychecks cut.
  • Most non-union contractors consider their workers “independent contractors” so no state taxes, workers compensation, etc. is paid into Missouri funds: weakening of these funds.
  • Paycheck income will flow back into out-of-state communities: Missouri economy hurt.

Look, while a PLA may indeed cost a public entity a bit more, keep in mind two critical issues:

  • That money flows back into the LOCAL economies helping local businesses who in turn are hiring local residents.
  • Local construction workers pay taxes too, so money flows back into the very entity they are working for as well as the state’s economy.

One final point: non-union workers whose employer wins a PLA-bid project benefit as well by being paid the higher union wage, which means more money for them and their families too.

And this applies to many Missouri workers, as not every construction company has a union contract. There are hundreds that don’t.

So not having a PLA means non-union workers will feel the negative impact in their paychecks as well.

Governor Greitens was elected on a pledge to build Missouri jobs and make things better for our working families.

If he signs this law, just as he did in signing the anti-worker so-called “right-to-work” law, Greitens will once again show himself to be the phony he is.

He’s not for Missouri workers; he’s for the anti-union Big Businesses who want to fund his campaign for U.S. President someday. Case in point: the recent $1.9 million in dark money that flowed into his campaign fund after he signed RTW. He has refused to identify the donors. Any guesses where that came from?

CONGRATULATIONS to all workers who support him. You’re about to see the impact of your vote.

P.S. What about the Republican mantra of “less government interference” with the marketplace? Telling cities what they can’t do is less government? Give me a break!

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