Project Labor Agreements



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"Protesters vocalize their opposition to Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and her keynote speech to the Associated Builders and Contractors conference on fighting project labor agreements at Silverado Resort."

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Associated Builders & Contractors Nevada Chapter 

Mac Bybee

Kara Arenas
Vice President

Tanya Burtis
Director of Business Development

Stacey Hine
Director of Workforce Development

Union-only project labor agreements (PLAs) eliminate merit shop contractors from competing for and winning construction projects

Construction contracts subject to union-only PLAs are almost always awarded exclusively to unionized contractors and their all-union workforces. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 15.6 percent of America's private construction workforce belongs to a union. This means union-only PLAs would discriminate against more than eight out of 10 construction workers who otherwise would work on construction projects if not for a union-only PLA.  The following provisions typically discourage merit shop contractors from working on PLA projects.

  • PLAs require non-union companies with their own benefit plans to pay their workers' health and welfare benefits to union trust funds. Thus,  companies have to pay benefits twice: once to the union and once to the company. Workers never see any of the benefits sent to the unions unless they decide to leave their non-union employer and remain with the union until vested; 
  • PLAs require non-union companies to obtain apprentices exclusively from union apprenticeship programs. Participants in federal and state-approved non-union apprenticeship programs cannot work on a job covered by a PLA. This means craft professionals enrolled in non-union apprenticeship programs are excluded from work in their hometowns.
  • PLAs require non-union companies to obtain their workers from union hiring halls. This means a non-union company has to send its own employees to the union hiring hall and hope the union sends the same workers back.
  • Non-union workers may have to pay union dues and fees or join a union in order to work on a PLA project. 
Union-only PLAs drive up the cost of construction projects

By unnecessarily limiting bidders and following outdated and inefficient union work rules, union-only PLAs consistently drive up costs on projects. Several academic studies indicate PLAs increase the cost of construction between 10 percent and 20 percent when compared to similar projects not subject to union-only PLAs.  

Union-only PLAs discriminate against merit shop contractors and disadvantaged businesses 

This discrimination is particularly harmful to women- and minority-owned construction businesses whose workers traditionally have been underrepresented in unions, mainly due to artificial and societal barriers in union membership and union apprenticeship and training programs. 

Union-only PLAs harm local workers 

Proponents of PLAs claim union-only PLAs ensure the use of local workers, but PLA supporters fail to mention "local workers" doesn't include local non-union workers. This rhetoric is particularly misleading when considering only 15.6 percent construction workers belong to a union. In construction markets where the demand for union labor is greater than the supply, union workers from outside the local area are given preference over qualified and available local non-union workers on PLA projects.

Union-only PLAs take away workers' rights

Workers normally are permitted to choose whether to join a union through a federally supervised private ballot election. PLAs require unions to be the exclusive bargaining representative for workers during the life of the project. The decision to elect union representation is made by the employer rather than the employees.  PLAs are called pre-hire agreements because they can be negotiated before the contractor hires any workers or employees vote on union representation. The National Labor Relations Act generally prohibits pre-hire agreements, but an exception in the act allows for these agreements only in the construction industry. In short, union-only PLAs strip away the right of construction workers to a federally supervised private ballot election when deciding whether to unionize their workplace. 

PLAs are not necessary to, and are not successful at, ensuring labor peace or keeping a project on time or on budget

Unions use the threat of labor strikes and unrest to coerce construction users into signing union-only PLAs. This is a particularly disingenuous argument boardering on blackmail because unions cause many project delays through illegal organizing and jurisdictional disputes on jobsites. Merit shop workers do not strike, yet they are excluded from working on PLA projects. A 2005 report by ABC general counsel Maury Baskin, Union-Only Project Labor Agreements: The Public Record of Poor Performance, documents the numerous failures and mishaps on union-only PLA construction projects.

View the latest information about discriminatory and costly project labor agreements on ABC's website and blog at:

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