PLAs get a big lift from Biden

Order requires project labor agreements on $35m-plus projects

PRESIDENT BIDEN’S recent executive order #14063 on the use of project labor agreements for federal construction projects is a major step toward fulfilling the pledge to build America back better. It’s not just good news for workers; it’s also good news for anyone who values safety and who wants to see the number of family-sustaining careers in our country increase.

For all the talk of the “gig” economy and its damaging effects on the earning power of workers in the United States, this order represents an important step to create more, better, full-time jobs and career opportunities in an industry that has proven durable for generations and is awfully hard to outsource – construction.

While some bad actors in the industry will constantly be aiming to water down safety standards and make construction work as low-pay and piecemeal as possible, the Biden administration’s executive order is a bulwark against those practices. It will defend the interests not just of workers but of all taxpayers.

For the public, it offers peace of mind that federally constructed roads, bridges, facilities, and other projects will be completed by a highly trained workforce that knows how to do the work in a way that puts safety first.

Specifically, the order will increase quality and lower the costs of federal construction projects by requiring the use of project labor agreements, or PLAs, on federal construction projects above $35 million.

As the president said, these agreements ensure that major projects are built by well-trained workers which means they are built right, built on time, and under budget. This translates into top-quality projects that save taxpayers money.

It means that the workers on these projects will have safer working conditions and industry-leading training while earning good union wages and benefits. PLAs have proven time and again to be the most effective way to provide career opportunities in construction to women, people of color, and veterans.

By means of local examples, in addition to being on time and on budget, the rebuilding of the UMass Boston campus under a PLA guaranteed not only jobs but comprehensive apprenticeship training and good-paying union careers for hundreds of women and people of color.

The same is true of a host of public and private sector PLA projects across Massachusetts. In fact, the Encore casino project in Everett employed 491 women, more than any other construction project in the history of the United States.

The New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal, specially built to service the emerging offshore wind industry, was built with a diverse local union workforce under the terms of a PLA. The first industrial-scale offshore wind farm in the United States is now underway from that site with a union-trained local workforce under a PLA signed last summer. The bottom line is that PLAs deliver results for equity and for ensuring that projects have significant representation from among local workforces.

President Biden has repeatedly stated the middle-class built America and unions built the middle-class. Today, he added, “when folks in the community get paid a decent wage everybody does better, it’s good for everybody.”

What could be better than top-quality projects, built on time and on budget by highly trained workers earning family-sustaining union wages and benefits with a secure place in the American middle class?

Biden said American workers are the hardest workers in the world and they’ve never let America down. We couldn’t agree more. In response to President Biden, I say America’s workers and their unions are ready, willing, and able to meet his challenge to rebuild America and rebuild it right.

Meet the Author

Frank Callahan

President, Massachusetts Building Trades Council
This order will have a lasting and positive impact on many workers and communities and will help create a virtuous economic cycle of reinvestment in local economies by ensuring workers are paid fairly and equitably.

Frank Callahan is the president of the Massachusetts Building Trades Unions.