Mass. Gubernatorial Candidates Clash Over PLAs

According to an editorial in the Worcester Telegram, government-mandated project labor agreements (PLAs) have been a divisive issue between incumbent Democrat Deval Patrick and GOP challenger Charles Baker in the Massachussetts gubernatorial race (“Shop Talk: Patrick and Baker camps spar over PLAs,” 5/6/10):

The verbal dispute between the Patrick administration and GOP gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker over project labor agreements heated up yesterday, with Gov. Patrick saying Mr. Baker “makes up a lot of stuff,” including a false claim that Massachusetts requires the use of union labor on public construction jobs.

On paper, the governor may be right. The laws don’t guarantee unions will get all state jobs, nor do they prohibit non-union companies from trying to get a piece of the action. But the bulk of the evidence from the real world backs Mr. Baker’s claim. Thanks to the combined effect of the state’s 1993 Pacheco law and the governor’s strong and oft-repeated advocacy of project labor agreements that favor unionized companies, the lion’s share of public work and contracts in Massachusetts do in fact go to unionized workers. The list includes work at the new Worcester State Hospital, and Mr. Patrick is on record favoring the use of union labor for $150 million in projects at UMass Boston, a courthouse in Lowell, the Salem State College library, and work on the Longfellow Bridge.

We have no quarrel with the quality of work by union laborers, but there’s no justification for state policies that effectively leave nonunion companies on the sidelines.Studies have repeatedly shown that the use of PLAs drives up construction costs. All construction workers should have an equal shot at bidding on lucrative public work.

The Baker campaign argues that by relaxing its anti-privatization policies Massachusetts could save between $75 million and $100 million annually on items including highway maintenance, vehicle fleet management, toll collections, parking garage operations, and the maintenance of buildings and parks. The Patrick administration insists that’s just not accurate, but the statistics suggest the Baker campaign’s charge may stick.

The Lowell Sun reported on candidate Baker’s “The Baker’s Dozen” plan to cut $1B in reckless state spending  (prohibiting PLA waste  – part of The Baker’s Dozen plan – is applauded here) while The Boston Globe reported on the Patrick Administration’s pledge to jump start construction with over $200 million in construction spending.

We encourage government spending to rebuild infrastructure and alleviate high unemployment in the construction industry, but it is a shame that this investment in taxpayer dollars is unlikely to create jobs for nonunion employees and contractors. Why? Because if the Patrick administration had its way, this would be $200 million worth of construction projects funneled to the campaign’s biggest political donors – Big Labor – via PLAs.

Will Mass. voters remember in November that nonunion employees and firms need jobs too and taxpayers deserve accountability.

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