This information is furnished by

Government-mandated PLAs discourage or 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 14.5 percent of the 2009 U.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 would otherwise work on construction projects if not for a union-only PLA.

PLAs typically include the following provisions that discourage merit shop contractors from working on PLA projects:

  • Despite the fact that the vast majority of ABC member contractors have their own benefit plans, PLAs require merit shop contractors 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 plan. Workers never see any of the benefit contributions sent to union accounts unless they decide to leave their merit shop employer and remain with the union until vested.
  • Paying into underfunded and mismanaged union pension plans also exposes merit shop contractors to massive pension withdrawal liabilities. Signing a PLA and exposing a company to pension liabilities could bankrupt a contractor or prohibit contractors from qualifying for construction bonds needed to build future projects.
  • PLAs require merit shop 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 all apprenticeship programs other than those offered by the union are excluded from work in their hometowns.
  • PLAs require merit shop companies to obtain their workers from union hiring halls. This means a merit shop company has to exclude their hard working employees from specific jobsites and exclusively use unfamiliar union workers. In other instances, merit shop employers can use portions of their own workforce, but they must send their workers to the union hiring hall and hope the union sends the same workers back to that specific jobsite.
  • Non-union workers may have to pay union dues and fees or join a union in order to work on a PLA project.
Read, Print and Share This Document about Project Labor Agreements

Learn more about the provisions in typical PLAs and how they harm nonunion contractors and employees at “Project Labor Agreement Basics: What is a PLA?” (4/24/09).

PLAs drive up the cost of construction projects. By unnecessarily limiting bidders and following outdated and inefficient union work rules, union-only PLAs consistently and unnecessarily drive up costs on projects. Numerous 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.

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 under-represented in unions, mainly due to artificial and societal barriers in union membership and union apprenticeship and training programs. Get the facts about the impact of union-only PLAs on women- and minority-owned construction businesses and workers here and here.

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 since only 14.5 percent of U.S. 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. These workers are called travelers or boomers.

PLAs take away workers’ rights. Workers normally are permitted to choose whether to join a union through a card check process or 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 – when agreeing to participate in a PLA – 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 (NLRA) 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 or a card check election when deciding whether or not 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 that flirts with 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.

To learn more about PLAs, please contact Ben Brubeck at Associated Builders and Contractors or get more information from ABC’s Informational PLA website and

Recent Posts