Updated 13 hours ago
“This is not illegal, there’s nothing nefarious and this is not a conspiracy,” Westmoreland County Commissioner Ted Kopas recently said in defense of the county’s project labor agreement with the Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades Council. Well, that certainly sounds like a policy that is on the up-and-up.
The project labor agreement (PLA), approved in 2016 and supported by Kopas and fellow Democrat Commissioner Gina Cerilli, essentially demands contractors use union workers for all public construction projects that cost more than $150,000.
It may not be illegal — but it sure is unfair. The agreement stacks the deck against nonunion workers who accounted for more than 80 percent of all laborers in Pennsylvania’s construction industry as of 2010.
It’s not only nonunion workers who lose out because of this labor agreement. Taxpayers do, too.
Recently, Westmoreland County commissioners, accountable for spending our tax dollars responsibly, awarded two different projects to union contractors — despite their significantly higher bids. As a result, they rejected lower bids from a local company that had done county work before, but did not meet the union requirements under the PLA.
“This is the second consecutive decision not to accept the lowest bid submitted, which is now a total of $52,000 of wasteful spending of taxpayers’ money,” Vince Tresco, owner of that company, told the commissioners. “This is wrong … and you should be ashamed of yourselves.”
He’s right. They should.
Tresco’s experience is not an exception; it’s the norm. In a study of PLA projects in several states, the Beacon Hill Institute found these agreements increase construction costs by as much as 18 percent.
This is in part because PLAs deter bidders. In a survey of 400 contractors by Associated Builders and Contractors, 98 percent said they would be less likely to bid on a PLA project because they are highly unlikely to prevail.
With fewer companies vying for a job, there is less pressure on all bidders to lower their prices. The Beacon Hill study concludes, “what is proven is that PLAs add costs to winning bids and to construction.”
Even more frustrating for taxpayers is that higher costs do not result in better quality, safer work environments or more timely completion of the project — contrary to the claims of PLA supporters like Kopas and Cerilli. A 2011 study confirmed that government-mandated PLA construction showed a persistent pattern of “numerous delays in construction, construction defects, safety problems and diversity issues.”
The bottom line is that PLAs help unions at the expense of taxpayers, workers and small, hometown construction businesses — the very people Kopas and Cerilli are supposed to represent as county commissioners.
It’s time to end the grip of special interests on our county and state budgets.
Our local lawmakers should use a higher bar than “not illegal” or “not nefarious” when evaluating public policy. They should ask instead if the policy makes life better for Westmoreland County taxpayers, workers and families.
On this, the current project labor agreement falls far short.
Ashley Klingensmith lives in Greensburg and is the Pennsylvania grassroots director of Americans for Prosperity.
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