Bills of Note: SB 3 and AB 24 – Project Labor Agreements Neutrality

Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield) and Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) introduced bills in their respective chambers requiring government to be neutral regarding the use of Project Labor Agreements (PLAs). The Senate bill, SB 3, was recommended for passage on a partisan 3-2 vote by the Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform on Feb. 2. We anticipate SB 3 may be considered by the full Senate as early as next week.

A government-mandated project labor agreement (PLA) is one in which government requires contractors to enter into a collective bargaining agreement with one or more labor unions as a condition of being allowed to perform work on a taxpayer-funded construction project.

Currently, Wisconsin units of government can require contractors to sign a PLA in order to work on taxpayer-funded construction projects.  PLAs can interfere with existing union collective bargaining agreements and unfairly discourage competition from nonunion contractors and their employees.

This bill requires government to be neutral regarding the use of PLAs. The legislation simply says that government can neither require nor prohibit the use of project labor agreements. It leaves that decision to the private parties involved in the project.

The Assembly Committee on Labor and the Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform both held public hearings on the companion bills last week. Rep. Hutton and Sen. Vukmir took questions on their respective bills, testifying that government neutrality in use of PLAs would allow for open competition and cost reduction in bids for government projects.

Groups including Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, the National Federation of Independent Business-Wisconsin Chapter, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and various small business contractors from across the state came to both committees to testify in favor of the legislation that they said would allow them to bid on projects from which PLA requirements normally discourage them, despite their quality work and fair treatment of their non-union employees. The groups testified that government mandated PLAs favor the only 18% of the Wisconsin workforce that belong to unions.

Assembly and Senate Democrats expressed opposition to the bills, questioning its importance when very few PLAs are actually used by municipalities for local projects. They argued that the bill would drive down wages and benefits for workers and that the state should not interfere with local governments’ authority. Union workers also testified against the bills, citing that PLAs ensure quality, safety and predictable costs for projects.

Reps. Hutton and Vukmir and those testifying in support of the bill clarified throughout the hearings that the bill would not prohibit municipalities from using PLAs, but simply require their neutrality regarding PLAs in the bidding process for projects. Local governments would still have the authority to impose other contract requirements such as residency, training and safety.

To date, 22 other states have adopted legislation or taken executive action restricting the use of PLAs on public construction projects.