What Are PLAs? Who Do They Benefit?

The Project Labor Agreement (PLA) is a project specific collective bargaining agreement between all the parties involved for the life of a construction project. The main purpose of the PLA is to create labor harmony on projects that involve several companies, union locals and specialized skills.

The companies who bid on the project and the local unions agree to work under one agreement that typically forbids union work stoppage and company lockouts.The PLA also has clauses dictating grievance and arbitration procedures. PLAs are basically collective bargaining agreements between unions, however, merit shop contractors are not always excluded. It is illegal for most publicly funded projects to discriminate on the basis of union affiliations.

PLAs are considered union only or union friendly because they contain provisions typically included in union labor agreements. They may contain some requirements that open shop companies would never dream of but the rules must apply equally to all participants. PLAs do, however, benefit union shops by leveling the playing field in the bid process. Conversely, open shop companies routinely bid on and win contracts for projects managed under the provisions of a PLA.

The National Right to Work Committee and the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) oppose Project Labor Agreements, because They recognize unions as the representatives of their employees on that job. They must obtain their workers through the union hiring halls. They must pay union wages and obey union work rules. They are also subject to union job classifications and arbitration procedures. Unions do not recognize the popular open shop practice of using semi-skilled helpers.

An association of open shop contractors, the ABC, has made outlawing PLAs one of their top priorities. For the past several years, the ABC has been on a crusade challenging PLAs in the courts and in public relations campaigns.

Some PLAs in the private sector have been friendlier to open shop contractors. Recent PLAs at Toyota plants have allowed non-union contractors to bring core employees on the site without having to go through local union hiring halls.

The financial benefits of the PLA are somewhat dubious. It all depends on whom you listen to. PLA advocates cite reduced cost of construction projects but their comparisons are with non-PLA union projects. Opponents compare the cost of PLA projects to open shop projects.