With Union or Without: The Complications of Project Labor Agreements (PLAs)


When entering into a new restoration or construction project, owners are often faced with a bundle of decisions to make. The process begins with a vision, then figuring out budget costs, where to get financing and who to bring on board.

All those who love to create will usually experience two common things: the process is never linear, but the end result is absolutely gratifying. In fact, the finished product is a culmination of a lot of downturn’s, stop’s and go’s. But if you were to ask a project manager what the most difficult part of the said process would be, it’s more than likely that the answer is who to bring on board.

Yes, any business owner will tell you that having the right team is vital to the success of any venture.

As contractors ourselves, we are unfortunately sometimes faced with pressure of who to hire for large-scale jobs. Yes, we are talking about labor unions, also known as Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) as well as Community Workforce Agreement. In case you aren’t familiar with labor unions, they consist of a drawn out process of regulatory compliance with the state, in terms of keeping labor “fair” and “open” on construction projects. More specifically, PLAs are government-mandated, pre-hire bargaining agreements between owners of construction projects and construction unions.

With experience most project managers come to learn that unionized labor agreements don’t hold up to the honorable intentions of which they were built upon. In fact, labor unions withhold true merit and competitiveness between laborers in winning contracts for construction projects. In other words, when mandatory, laborers who are not in a union have a lesser chance of becoming hired and may ultimately be deemed unqualified.

You don’t have to be an economic analyst to know that less competition increases cost, and in this case it’s the cost of construction projects. According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of U.S. private construction workers is very small, about 13.2% of laborers belong to a union. This means that PLAs are seemingly discriminatory towards 8 out of 10 construction workers, who would’ve been able to work on larger projects otherwise.

Is being associated with a labor union reflective of merit, expertise, or hard work ethic? Absolutely not. And like was said before, when working on a project, especially one of a grandeur scale, it’s best to work with the best. With union or without. Right?