West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, broke from party lines Thursday by ending a common union-backed policy known as mandatory project labor agreements.
Project labor agreements occur when companies working on a public project must enter into collective bargaining with a union, hire workers through the union and pay union wages and benefits. The new law signed by Tomblin, known as Establishing Fair and Open Competition in Governmental Construction Act, ends government mandated PLAs in the state.
Andy Conlin, director of state and local affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors, applauded Tomblin for rising above party politics by signing the bill into law.
“Gov. Tomblin’s leadership in becoming the first Democratic governor to sign legislation outlawing PLA mandates on public construction projects, and the bipartisan manner in which this legislation passed are clear indicators of the growing momentum against these special interest handouts,” Conlin noted in a statement.
“PLA mandates are bad for taxpayers and for the vast majority of construction workers who choose not to join a labor union and actions such as those taken by the governor and legislature demonstrate the growing bipartisan consensus that PLA mandates are bad public policy,” he continued.
Bryan Hoylman, ABC state president, argues the law will help lower costs for public projects.
“By prohibiting these costly and unnecessary mandates on publicly funded construction projects, this bipartisan legislation will ensure that every qualified bidder in the state of West Virginia and their skilled craft professionals are given a fair chance to participate in the public procurement process,” Hoylman detailed in a statement.
“Studies show PLAs drive up the cost of public construction projects between 12 to 18 percent and the leadership shown by bill sponsors Sen. Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael and Del. Geoff Foster will increase competition and provide better value to taxpayers by allowing all qualified West Virginia contractors to compete effectively for work on taxpayer-funded projects,” he continued.
According to a report by the libertarian Cato Institute, project labor agreements alone can add 12 to 18 percent to the cost of public projects.
Since the midterm election, the newly elected Republican majority within the state legislature has been proposing ideas, including ending PLAs, prevailing wage reform and outlawing mandatory union membership, in the hopes of improving the struggling economy. Union leadership within the state, however, has condemned the ideas as being anti-worker.
Most recently, the state chapter of the AFL-CIO planned a rally at the state capital to protest the policy reforms.
AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department President Mark H. Ayers has in the past defended PLAs. Noting a study by Cornell University, he argued they are great at providing jobs to disadvantaged communities.
“The Cornell report confirms and illuminates the ‘untold story’ of PLAs,” Ayers noted in a statement from 2011. “They are extremely effective at providing job and career training opportunities for historically disadvantaged communities. The bottom line, as exemplified by this report, is that PLAs work.”
Despite the adamant opposition, Republican lawmakers have argued the policies will help improve the local economy which has been suffering for years. According to a recent report by Market Watch, West Virginia is the only state where less than half its civilians work.
The report detailed, “State data compiled by the Labor Department shows that West Virginia’s civilian labor participation rate has fallen to 49.8%, from 50% in October. The national rate in December was 62.7%.”
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