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Foust Weighs in on Silver Line PLA Controversy

Supervisor says a PLA decision should be based on whether it can reduce delays and cost overruns.

Metro's Silver Line extension to Dulles airport and into Loudoun County now hinges on a political fight over something called a project labor agreement.

Because the Silver line is key to the redevelopment of Tysons Corner, McLean Patch asked Dranesville Supervisor John Foust (D) and Del. Barbara Comstock (R-McLean Great Falls, Loudoun) to explain to readers the five things they need to know about the Dulles PLA. Foust's response follows. .

The Metropolitan Washington Airpots Authority board is scheduled to vote today on the PLA issue.

Dranesville Supervisor John Foust 

1. Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) are often used on large complex construction projects to guarantee against strikes, lockouts and similar job disruptions; establish effective, prompt and mutually binding procedures for resolving labor disputes; provide other mechanisms for labor-management cooperation on matters of mutual interest and concern including productivity, quality of work, safety, and health; provide alternative dispute resolution procedures for a range of issues; ensure compliance with laws and regulations governing workplace safety and health, equal employment opportunity, and labor and employment standards; set uniform work hours and holiday schedules; and, require pre-job conferences to assign and coordinate work.

2. Construction has many risks and regardless of the agreements that are put in place at the beginning of a project, there is no way to completely eliminate those risks. PLAs are a tool used on many very complex construction projects to attempt to control costs, ensure timely performance and provide work safety rules. Phase I of the Dulles Metro and the Beltway Hot Lanes are two examples of successful Northern Virginia projects that have benefited from a PLA. The Springfield interchange ("Mixing Bowl") project is an example of a large complex project that did not use a PLA. That project was several years late, had cost overruns of several hundred million dollars, and several workers were killed during construction.

3. Virginia is a "Right to Work" state so workers cannot be forced to join a union. PLA's do not discriminate against non-union contractors in the context of bidding, nor do they force or require non-union workers to join a union or abide by any union rules.

4. PLAs can be "mandatory" (the project owner requires the successful bidder to enter into a PLA) or "voluntary" (the successful bidder chooses to enter into a PLA). Many owners of large complex construction projects, including private owners who are concerned about their bottom-line, require PLAs. Toyota, a non-union shop, has built all its North American manufacturing facilities under a PLA and reports that its construction costs are substantially less than its competitors.

5. On public construction projects, deciding whether to use a PLA should be based on whether a PLA is more likely to reduce the risk of delay, cost overruns and job-site injuries and deaths, and not on whether the decision makers are "pro-union" or "anti-union."


Kevin Cole June 06, 2012 at 01:13 PM
5. You are close to correct - this should not be about being pro or anti union. I agree. However, you conveniently leave out an important fact relating to worker pay. Regardless of PLA or no PLA, this project will require that the Prevailing Wage for each category of work be paid (That's called the Davis Bacon Act). What that highlights in this context is that the existence of a PLA makes not one penny of difference to the workers. The difference is how much money the union bosses will collect. PLA - they get rich. No PLA - the taxpayers get a fair deal. Ok, now I'm done.
anne gruner June 06, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Bobbi: thanks for the useful discussion by both sides of this important issue!
Ted Brogan June 06, 2012 at 02:51 PM
Supervisor Foust, Phase 1 of the Silver Line and the Hot Lanes projects were voluntary PLAs. Contractors were able to negotiate the terms and the conditions directly with unions instead of having the agreement jammed down their throats by a government intermediary with no experience running a construction business (and controlled by unions through political influence) that the contractor must agree to or they can't win a contract. PLA mandates 100% discriminate against nonunion contractors and their employees. Sure these firms are legally allowed to bid on these projects, but they have to agree to the union-favoring terms of the PLA to win the contracts. PLA mandates discourage competition from nonunion contractors (and even union contractors who don't like the agreement mandated by the government). It is clear a PLA takes away opportunity for nonunion construction workers. Look at Comstock's column to see how/why. Government-mandated PLAs may benefit and are supported by some contractors, but many oppose them. When mandated, it reduces competition, which can increase costs. That is why PLAs should never be mandated. The bottom line is that nothing is stopping firms from voluntarily using a PLA on Phase 2. If PLAs are so great, contractors can use them to achieve a competitive advantage and lower costs as DTP did on Phase 1. What's wrong with fair and open competition?
Ted Brogan June 06, 2012 at 03:00 PM
The mixing bowl project suffered those problems not because of a lack of a PLA mandate. There are numerous similar problems on PLA mandate projects too. Big Dig, Milwaukee Brewers Stadium, San Fran Airport experienced cost overruns, accidents and delays. Last summer, seven PLA mandate projects in NYC and Indiana had strikes on them, etc. We could spend days trading examples supporting our differing viewpoints on PLA mandates. Construction is a dangerous and complicated industry and a PLA can't guarantee anything other than restricting competition. We have laws and regulations already in place to fix some of the issues a PLA claims to address. But when you look at most PLAs, these terms simply parrot existing laws. The real intent and heart of any PLA mandate are terms and conditions to create jobs for union workers and effectively cut competition by their qualified nonunion competitors. This is crony contracting. Can you tell me any other industry where a government is allowed to force a contractor to sign a collective bargaining agreement with unions as a condition of winning a contract to provide services to a government agency?
Rob Jackson June 06, 2012 at 07:45 PM
IMO, it's time to move on. The mandatory and bidding credit PLAs were dropped. Now the decision to use or not use one is a business one. This matter is finished. We need to focus on finding funding to build all of the additional road capacity that will be needed to redevelop Tysons. See Table 7 of the Revised Comp Plan for Tysons. The Silver Line does NOT reduce traffic congestion, but triggers more. We need the road improvements, as well as very strong traffic demand management plans.

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