A "project labor agreement" is when the government awards contracts for public construction projects exclusively to unionized firms.
Under the National Labor Relations Act, construction contractors and employees have the right to choose to unionize or not to unionize. The vast majority of contractors and their employees – more than 80 percent – have voluntarily opted against unionization.
Because most contractors and employees choose to refrain from unionization when they have the free choice, Big Labor turned to politicians to remove that choice and impose union representation on employees from the top down. The method by which this is done is a project labor agreement, which is also frequently referred to as a "PLA."
A project labor agreement requires all contractors, whether they are unionized or not, to subject themselves and their employees to unionization in order to work on a government-funded construction project. This is done by including a union collective bargaining agreement in a public construction project’s bid specifications. In order to receive a contract, a contractor must sign the agreement and subject its employees to union control.
Project labor agreements usually require contractors to grant union officials monopoly bargaining privileges over all workers; use exclusive union hiring halls; force workers to pay dues to keep their jobs; and pay above-market prices resulting from wasteful work rules and featherbedding.
The use of a project labor agreement usually results in cost overruns and higher construction costs for taxpayers. Qualified non-union contractors who wish to make lower-cost bids, and employees who wish to work non-union, are locked out of the project. However, politicians and government officials continue to impose project labor agreements to reward the union officials that fund their political campaigns and keep them in power.
Some levels of government have taken action to stop abusive project labor agreements. President Bush signed an executive order prohibiting federal agencies, and other entities receiving federal aid for construction projects, from using PLA’s. (Click here to see the executive order.) Montana and Utah have enacted similar legislation prohibiting government mandated project labor agreements.
Even under a project labor agreement, employees do retain some rights. First, all employees have the right to refrain from being a full union member and to pay either no or reduced union dues, depending on the state in which they work. (Click here for more information.) Second, if the PLA requires all employees to be hired through an exclusive union hiring hall, the hiring hall may not discriminate between union and non-union workers. Finally, while a PLA may require union representation on a particular public construction project, this forced representation does not automatically extend to other projects a contractor works on.
The Foundation is opposed to project labor agreements, as they sacrifice employees’ rights of free choice and forcibly impose unwanted union representation on employees. The Foundation stands ready, willing and able to help employees who are victims or potential victims of these schemes. Workers who wish to request legal assistance may write us, call us toll-free at 800-336-3600, or send an e-mail message to [email protected]. Address your request for assistance to Legal Department.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, is assisting thousands of employees in more than 300 cases nationwide.