BHI: Project Labor Agreements on Federal Construction Projects: A Costly Solution

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A new study released today by the Beacon Hill Institute (BHI) finds that Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), which will be permitted under an executive order from President Obama, will significantly increase construction costs on federal projects while doing nothing to protect the interests of federal taxpayers. The executive order reverses a prohibition on PLAs that was in effect during the Bush Administration.

The purpose of the BHI study, which is entitled Project Labor Agreements on Federal Construction Projects: A Costly Solution in Search of a Problem, was to determine whether the reversal of this prohibition is in the interest of federal taxpayers.

PLAs are agreements with contractors that establish the rules to be followed by firms that bid on construction projects. PLAs typically require a contractor to hire workers though union hiring halls, require non-union workers to pay dues for the length of the project and force contractors to abide by union rules on pensions, work conditions and dispute resolution.

In February, President Obama issued Executive Order 13502, which allows executive agencies to require contractors to use PLAs on federal construction projects costing $25 million or more. The federal government’s deadline for accepting comments on the order is September 23, 2009.The purpose of a PLA is to assure labor “peace” during construction projects.

But a review by BHI of federal construction projects during the Bush Administration found no instances of labor disputes that resulted in significant project delays or increased costs.”Our examination of the record produces no evidence of any systematic connection between the absence of a PLA, on the one hand, and cost overruns or delays caused by labor disputes, on the other,” said David G. Tuerck, one of the authors of the study and Executive Director of the Beacon Hill Institute. Therefore, the justifications offered by the Obama Administration for reinstating PLAs are not supported by the evidence.

Full study here.

About Beacon Hill Institute

The Beacon Hill Institute engages in rigorous economic research and conducts educational programs for the purpose of producing and disseminating readable analyses of current public policy issues to voters, taxpayers, opinion leaders and policy makers.