Labor agreements hurt independents
- Rich Troyer
- Portland Tribune - Opinion
• Fact: Nearly 80 percent of all contractors in Oregon are 'merit' shops Ñ unaffiliated with a particular group or company Ñ or utilize nonunion merit contractors.
• Fact: Merit contractors perform quality work, on time and at competitive rates.
• Fact: Merit contractors provide quality benefits and create a stable working environment.
• Fact: Union-only project labor agreements discriminate against merit contractors.
Merit contractors believe in freedom and free enterprise and that jobs should be earned based on ability and competence, not because of an affiliation with a particular group or organization.
Union-only project labor agreements, or PLAs, are used by unions to prevent nonunion contractors, or merit contractors, from working on job sites and bidding on construction projects. The unions will argue that union-only PLAs ensure higher safety standards and higher quality work and prevent work stoppages. Unions also will argue that they treat their employees more fairly.
To the contrary, recent studies by the EcoNorthwest consulting firm have shown that more fatalities occurred on union job sites than nonunion, or independent, contractors' job sites. The study, 'Project Labor Agreements and Their Potential Impacts on the Economies of Oregon and Southwest Washington,' was completed in June. Recent surveys also indicate that many owners and developers see no difference between union and merit contractors when it comes to quality issues.
Work stoppages are unknown on merit contractor job sites; they are a tactic employed by unions to unfairly gain more advantageous and profitable working conditions. As for fairness, what is fair about forcing employees to join a union and pay dues to support political issues or candidates that they may not believe in?
In addition, recent research (both the EcoNorthwest study and 'The Effects of Project Labor Agreements in Massachusetts,' a January study conducted by the Beacon Hill Institute and available on the Internet at: http://www.beaconhill.org/BHIStudies/PLApolicystudy12903.pdf shows that union-only PLAs tend to run over budget Ñ usually around 17 percent Ñ and are not completed within the original agreed-upon time frame. Safeco Field in Seattle was built under a union-only PLA and ended up $197 million over budget, becoming the most expensive stadium ever built. In addition, a wildcat strike by union ironworkers occurred, delaying the project.
Comerica Field in Detroit also was built under a union-only PLA and ended up $25 million over original estimates. In contrast, FedEx Field, the Washington Redskins' new stadium, was built without using a PLA and set the U.S. record for speed of professional stadium construction.
What makes the agreements even more damaging, however, is that they are often imposed on state and local governments for large taxpayer-funded projects, such as stadiums or conference centers. This means that your taxpayer dollars are being used to discriminate against almost 80 percent of the construction work force in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Imagine if your elected officials told you that they were going to pay only a certain segment of the population to do a job and that only that population would be allowed to work on the job. There would be a public outcry against the discrimination and the inequity of such a proclamation. Yet, publicly funded union-only PLAs do just that. They discriminate using your tax dollars.
The EcoNorthwest research also indicates that if union-only PLAs were used for all state and local construction projects, the net impact on the economy over the 10-year period from 2002 to 2011 would be:
• A loss of 11,539 worker-years of employment (almost 1,200 fewer construction jobs per year for 10 years).
• A loss of $400 million in labor income.
• A loss of almost $1 billion in economic output.
With Oregon and Washington's economies in such trouble and with the nation's highest unemployment, we can't afford to pay more for less. We can't afford to have unions bring workers in from out of state or even out of the country to work on jobs that should be going to Oregonians. We can't afford union-only PLAs.
With the possibility of a major league baseball stadium being built in Portland, our elected officials need to know the discrimination and costs of union-only PLAs. Tell your legislator, the mayor and City Council members to vote no on any publicly funded PLAs that come up.
Rich Troyer is the chief estimator for SD Deacon Corp., a general contractor in Portland. He also is the board chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. He graduated from Oregon State University and lives in Beaverton. In his spare time, he officiates high school and college football.