The Associated Builders & Contractors, a business lobby last seen using misleading signature gathering
to push an anti-union ballot measure, are really excited about a new report purporting to bolster their anti-union arguments. The report, like the ballot measure, focuses on Project Labor Agreements (PLAs).
PLAs are agreements that establish uniform terms and conditions for all construction craft employees, as well as all construction contractors on a specific construction project. Each PLA is specific to one project only.
PLAs do not require union labor or union contractors, though they set the same standards for all workers, union and non-union and across different trades, at a given worksite. That includes things like working hours and dispute resolution as well as wages. PLAs have been used on federal projects since the 1930s and are also used in the private sector and by state and local governments.
The Associated Builders and Contractors are not, to put it mildly, fans of Project Labor Agreements, and have been lobbying state governments to ban them for government-funded work. Now they're pushing a report (which they paid for) claiming that PLAs push California school construction costs up by 13-15 percent. Or, that's what it claims if you read the executive summary and the first several pages.
Here are a couple of the things that affect school construction costs that they didn't consider in the bulk of the report:
- Prevailing wages are different in different places and that if the places that use PLAs have higher prevailing wages to begin with, that will affect construction costs in those places, PLA or no.
- In California, some school districts have higher seismic standards than others, which, again, can drive up construction costs.
But wait! There is a part of the report that controls for construction in the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is both an area with a high prevailing wage and high seismic standards, and the school district with the most construction projects included in the report. And when they controlled for LAUSD, suddenly there was no significant difference in the cost of building a school with a PLA and building without one. Similarly, when they matched schools built with PLAs with schools built without PLAs but with otherwise similar characteristics, again, there was no significant difference in cost. But that's buried deep in the report.
In short, what we have here is an extremely right-wing business lobby group that paid for a report to take a specific position. For some reason, the report's authors chose to include results that actually contradicted the "PLAs raise costs" takeaway promoted in its executive summary.
But let's face it, the Associated Builders and Contractors probably don't much care about that, because most people won't get beyond the executive summary, and the ABC's public relations staff will be out pushing a single line that will go uncontradicted by enough reporters for the whole exercise to have been worth it for them.