Unions Rally Behind House Push For PLA Law

Sam Doran 
Jun 26, 2024 

Rep. Marjorie Decker, lead sponsor of project labor agreement legislation in the House, stands with union leaders ahead of a rally on the State House steps Wednesday, June 26, 2024.

Group Urges Reps To Strip Language They Say Will Hurt Non-Union Businesses In Their Districts 

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JUNE 26, 2024…..Firing themselves up with explicit chants,hundreds of union members crowded the front of the state capitol Wednesday to celebrate theimpending advancement of project labor agreement legislation in the House on Thursday.

The language advanced by the House Ways and Means Committee in a larger economicdevelopment bill would give municipalities and government agencies the explicit option ofimposing project labor agreements, which often call for using only union workers.

Frank Callahan, president of the Mass. Building Trades Unions, cited “a couple of bad courtcases a few years ago” on PLAs that he claims were “very, very confusing.”

In May, a Hampden County Superior Court judge blocked a PLA imposed by the SpringfieldWater and Sewer Commission on the grounds it would add costs and time to a water filtrationproject while failing to meet PLA standards already outlined by the Supreme Judicial Court.

“We got cities and towns lining up all across Massachusetts, saying, ‘How do we do a projectlabor agreement?’ … And they want to do it,” Callahan told the throng on the Beacon Streetsidewalk.

A Rep. Marjorie Decker bill (H 3012), filed at the start of the two-year term, earned afavorable report from the Joint State Administration Committee last November and has satsince then in the House Ways and Means Committee. A companion bill sponsored by Sen.Paul Mark moved at the same time to Senate Ways and Means.

Decker filed a similar text as a budget amendment in April, but the policy language was tossedaside at the time by House leaders.

“Today, in this economic development bill, we will for the first time have actually codified instate statute the importance of project labor agreements,” the Cambridge Democrat saidWednesday.

She added, “I’m so proud to stand here. I look forward to going in there and voting on this. Iknow my friends in the Senate will not be far behind because I know many of them care asdeeply as we do about the work you do.”

At least two senators, Sens. Michael Brady and Walter Timilty, could be seen in the crowd of supporters.

The PLA section of the House economic development bill says an agency or municipality “may require” a PLA, “provided, that the public agency or municipality shall make a determination prior to issuing a request for proposals that requiring such project labor agreement is in the best interest of the commonwealth.” 

The Associated Builders and Contractors of Massachusetts (ABC MA) slammed the legislation Wednesday, writing in a press release that it would “bypass” the SJC’s limits. 

“There are good reasons why the SJC placed strict limits on the use of PLAs. By requiring that all trade labor on a project come from construction unions, they exclude the 81.8 percent of Massachusetts construction workers who choose not to join a union, thereby reducing competition and driving up costs,” ABC MA President Greg Beeman said. 

Union members hold up signs supporting project labor agreement legislation at a rally in front of the State House on Wednesday, June 26, 2024.

The organization pointed to the high court’s ruling in Callahan v. City of Malden and language pertaining to a qualifying project’s “substantial size, duration, timing, and complexity.” 

“The blanket authorization in the current House version … does not include these qualifying criteria,” ABC MA wrote. 

Jason Kauppi, president of the Merit Construction Alliance, also knocked the House plan. 

In a letter to state representatives, he called on them to remove section 153 from the House economic development bill and asserts that the PLA language will hurt “(non-union) construction workers and contractors in your district.” 

“PLAs disadvantage merit shop contractors and employees who are otherwise qualified to bid and work,” Kauppi wrote. “PLAs mandate winning bidders use only union labor, but merit shops already have employees who are paid prevailing wage, receive generous benefits and are protected by state and federal laws.” 

Callahan, who was first elected to lead the Mass. Building Trades 17 years ago, said arguments from “those not-nice people on the other side” that union workers “just cost more money” equate to “BS.” 

“Does anybody know what BS stands for?” he quizzed the workers on the sidewalk. “Bullshit,” they shouted back. After another call and response of the expletive, Callahan said, “You’re God damn right. Thanks for reminding me.” 

A report released Wednesday by Community Labor United and the Green Justice Coalition called the agreements a “win-win for Massachusetts.” 

Community Labor United Report: Project Labor Agreements

“…[I]n addition to creating new pathways to union careers, they help ensure projects are completed efficiently and safely – with provisions that minimize the possibilities of potential disruptions and delays, and that ensure fair and safe conditions for all workers,” the groups wrote. 

The report added: “PLAs also ensure workers have a contractual guarantee of receiving equal pay for equal work, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, creed, or other categories of self-identification.” 

Nine other states and the federal government have established laws promoting the PLAs on public infrastructure projects, according to the report, which urges Gov. Maura Healey to issue a related executive order ahead of the “next wave” of infrastructure projects. 

Standing in the 89-degree heat, Decker picked up on Callahan’s “BS” theme and referred to herself as “not always the most filtered person” as she recalled growing up in public housing and relying on a local food pantry while her mother worked overtime.

“And I’ll say, really what’s BS, is there are people going to work — and they work really hard,and they show up every day, and they still end up in line at a food pantry, or they still needsubsidized housing, or they can’t afford a tutor for their kid, or they can’t afford to go to thebeach for a day, never mind a week. Because they’re not being paid their value. That’s what’sBS,” Decker said.

She had to pause her remarks while the tradespeople repeatedly chanted, “Bullshit, bullshit.”

Chaton Green, business agent for the Greater Boston Building Trades Unions, said PLAs “areeconomic justice agreements that create pathways to the middle class, and as Massachusettsresidents and taxpayers, I’m here to say we deserve a path to the middle class.”

“We’re here today,” Decker said, “because we understand that when a project labor agreementis used, we understand that right away, the playing field is leveled, and the message has beendelivered to everyone, that you will do this job but not on the backs and at the profit of thosewho are doing the hard work every day making the job possible.”

[Michael P. Norton contributed reporting]