Tag: construction

How union workers in one downstate Illinois community fought back against an effort to block Project Labor Agreements

Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) are agreements between a governmental body, whether it be the federal government, a state government, or a local government, and one or more labor unions that gives the unions the ability to collectively bargain for wages and benefits for workers on a publicly-funded project, such as road construction or construction of government buildings.

In Glen Carbon, Illinois, a coal mining community-turned-St. Louis, Missouri suburb in Madison County, Illinois, workers had to fight for their right to a PLA after anti-union forces tried to repeal an ordinance authorizing PLAs not long after the original ordinance was enacted.

On June 9th of this year, the Glen Carbon village board (Glen Carbon is legally incorporated as a village under Illinois law) voted to require PLAs on village construction projects by a 4-2 vote, despite the fact that the village president, Rob Jackstadt, has publicly opposed PLAs. Jackstadt responded to the vote for PLAs for scheduling a vote to repeal the pro-PLA ordinance for July 14, and that’s when the unions showed up before the Glen Carbon village board to tout the benefits of PLAs.

The unions’ primary argument in favor of PLAs was that they prevent labor stoppages from delaying work on public projects. Mark Johnson, the president of Operating Engineers Local 520, cited an example of union workers working without a PLA on a private-sector construction project (specifically, a Sam’s Club bulk-item store in Edwardsville) in his defense of PLAs:

You’re looking at 11 labor agreements trying to function on the same job site…It works, but it doesn’t work as well as these PLAs do. Instead of 11 agreements, you have one blanket agreement covering everybody.

Another argument that the unions used in defense of PLAs is that workers on projects covered by a PLA are paid more than non-union workers in the same type of work. Raymond Hunt, an ironworker from Glen Carbon, said this before his hometown’s village board:

The unions are the best thing going…They take care of their people. The non-union people – they work for nothing. They can be fired in a second. If the boss doesn’t like what they’re doing, doesn’t like them personally, they just get rid of them. I’ve seen a lot of it happen. The union people are dedicated and do a good job.

Only two people showed up at the Glen Carbon village board meeting to argue the anti-PLA position. One of them, Jamie Wilkinson, was an official of some kind for Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC), a trade association that has backed Republican politicians and publicly opposed union construction. Wilkinson publicly dissed union workers by saying that he thought that they were not the only qualified labor force.

Thanks in no small part to the brilliant campaign waged by unions and union workers to keep PLAs in Glen Carbon, the Glen Carbon village board voted 4-2 to keep the pro-PLA ordinance they had enacted a little more than a month earlier on the books. PLAs result in fewer workplace disputes and put more take-home pay in the pockets of hard-working workers.

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Repealing prevailing wage laws: A blatant effort to drive down wages

The Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly recently passed legislation to repeal that state’s common construction wage law, efforts are underway in Wisconsin to repeal that state’s prevailing wage law, and Republican Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has made repealing our state’s prevailing wage law a major priority of his right-wing corporate agenda. Prevailing wage laws require construction and other types of workers on taxpayer-funded projects to be paid the prevailing wage in the area in which the work is being done.

While Republicans and conservatives claim that repealing prevailing wage laws would save taxpayers money, Iowa, which neighbors both Illinois and Wisconsin, has proven that to be absolutely false. In Iowa, a state that does not have a state-level prevailing wage law, the per lane-mile cost of maintaining state-maintained roads was $5,732 in 2012. In Wisconsin, which currently has a state-level prevailing wage law, the per lane-mile costs of maintain state-maintained roads was $4,341, or $1,391 less expensive per lane-mile than Iowa, in 2012.

Prevailing wage laws do nothing more than drive down the wages of workers on road construction and other publicly-funded projects and allow construction companies to pad their profits at the expense of workers and taxpayers. Driving down the wages of workers, whether it be construction workers and other types of workers, also hurts the overall economy, because workers whose wages drop have less money to spend on goods and services, which results in businesses not being able to make as much money selling goods and services.

Scott Walker’s new wage theft law is shipping Wisconsin jobs to Minnesota

You want to know how bad wage theft (i.e., right-to-work) legislation is for states that enact them? Well, Wisconsin, which is the most recent state to enact a wage theft law thanks to Scott Walker and his Republican allies in the Wisconsin State Legislature, just lost some construction jobs to Minnesota due to Wisconsin becoming a wage theft state:

Before Walker signed the wage theft bill into law, Pat Garofalo, a Republican member of the Minnesota House of Representatives who has publicly opposed right-to-work laws, authored an official letter inviting Wisconsin companies who are owned by people who oppose wage theft for whatever reason to move their jobs to Minnesota, where workers’ rights are more protected than they are in Wisconsin. Now, because of the wage theft legislation in Wisconsin, at least one company that I’ve been made aware of has moved their jobs from Wisconsin to Minnesota.

Busting unions and driving down wages does absolutely nothing to create jobs, and Scott Walker’s Wisconsin is proof of that.