Congressional Republicans yield to organized labor, while state GOP blocks government mandates

BATON ROUGE, La. – At a time when Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill are yielding to the demands of organized labor, their counterparts in Louisiana are leading the charge against government mandates they believe would raise taxpayer costs.

Senate Bill 76, which prevents state officials from mandating Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) on construction projects, passed the Louisiana House on Tuesday with strong bipartisan support in a 96 to four vote. Jared Brossett (D-New Orleans), Roy Burrell (D-Shreveport), Austin Badon (D-New Orleans), and John Edwards (D-Amite) were the only no votes. SB 76 also passed in the Senate with the support of eight Democrats on May 24.

The story is much different on the national level. Twenty-seven Republicans joined Democrats to support an amendment to the Military Construction/Veterans Affairs (VA) appropriations bill that opens the door for PLAs. As a result of these defections, the amendment passed by just one vote 204-203 on Monday.

PLAs call for construction contractors, including those non-unionized, to require their employees to be represented by a union on government-funded construction projects. These pre-hire agreements, which are exclusive to the construction industry, lock out non-union construction shops, say officials with the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), a private industry group.

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 passed by President Franklin Roosevelt, also known as the Wagner Act, generally prohibits pre-hire agreements. However, the Wagner Act included an exception for the construction industry. So far, PLAs have yet to make serious inroads into Louisiana, but a few failed attempts have been made at acquiring Responsible Contractor Ordinances (RCOs) and Responsible Employer Ordinances REOs, which contain PLA-type language.

“This is a pro worker rights bill and a pro-taxpayer bill,” Rep. Tony Ligi (R-Metaire), the House sponsor said after SB 76 passed. “We need to maintain competitive practices and to keep construction costs low. There is nothing in the bill that prevents a union and government agency from PLAs voluntarily, if that’s what they want.”

Research from the Beacon Hill Institute suggests that PLAs raise construction costs by about 18 percent. Another study from Maurice Baskin, a law partner with Venable LLP in Washington D.C. who represents construction employees, concludes that PLAs both reduce competition and delay project completion.

When he addressed the House and Industrial Relations Committee earlier this month, Sen. Danny Martiny (R-Metaire), told colleagues that the legislation was carefully calibrated to guard against restrictive government polices and did not address the merits of PLAs. Lawmakers in both parties understood that PLA mandates could close off opportunities to Louisiana workers, Martiny observed.

“We’ve heard from opponents of PLAs that they raise construction costs and we’ve heard from others who say that PLAs don’t,” Martiny said. “What we want is open and fair competition. If PLAs are worthwhile, then there is nothing to prevent a public entity (state agency) from joining with a union on a PLA. But they should not be a requirement.”

Brett McMahon, a representative with the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), said free market groups need to keep pressure on Republicans at the national level who have betrayed Tea Party principles.

“We’ve got 27 Republicans, and some of them have voted against us every time, but what’s even more disturbing is several of them including these supposedly business-friendly, Tea Party fiscal conservatives are now proven hypocrites… But it’s good to see Louisiana pressing ahead, and we hope to see this kind of activity in other states.”

SB 76 only applies to state government agencies. Louisiana must still follow federally mandated PLAs.

An executive order from President Obama encourages federal agencies to use PLAs on construction projects costing over $25 million. This reverses an earlier executive order from President Bush that banned PLAs. The concern on the part of ABC is that organized labor can now angle itself into areas of the country that are largely non-unionized at the expense of taxpayers.

Kevin Mooney is an investigative reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter.