Governor Cuomo’s State of the State a few weeks ago and his Budget Address yesterday certainly makes it appear as though he is willing to dig in his heels and control the costs of taxpayer- funded things like public pensions, Medicaid, etc. Controlling the rate at which the costs of those programs increase is most certainly a step in the right direction. And kudos to him for his willingness to take that step. But we ultimately have to do more than control the rate at which costs increase. We have to actually decrease the costs that the New York taxpayers are stuck paying. When costs are too high, it’s great to stop them from going any higher, but in the end, they’re still too high. We have to actually CUT costs if we are to ever dig ourselves out of the economic crisis that we all agree we are in.
For too long here in New York, taxpayers have been forced to pay too much for public construction projects, because big labor special interests have traded their political support for special agreements, called project labor agreements (PLA), that earmark all of the labor on public construction projects to construction workers who are union members. These agreements virtually shut out thousands of local construction companies from the opportunity to work on public construction projects that are funded in part, but their own tax dollars, simply because those companies employ workers who have freely chosen to NOT be a member of a union.
As a construction industry employer in Upstate New York, my ability to maintain and grow employment opportunities within my company is contingent on my company having an equal opportunity to perform work on construction projects financed with taxpayer dollars. PLAs strip away that opportunity from my company, because I employ construction workers who choose not to be union members. My company will not consider working under the terms of a PLA because it requires us to ignore our own highly skilled local workforce and instead employ workers from the union hall.
As a small business, our employees are a part of our extended family, and we can see no reason to take away from them an opportunity to work and provide for their families in order to provide opportunities for their union counterparts. If my company were to work under a PLA, we would have to force the few workers that we would be allowed to employ from our own workforce to pay union dues and essentially “join” the union for the duration of the project. Our employees have FREELY decided that union representation is not in their best interest. So working under a PLA is a losing proposition for them, and we as a company value and respect them too much to force that on them.
So, our only option as a company is to avoid working on PLA projects. Our tax dollars and the tax dollars of our employees, pay for these projects, but simply because we as a company and our individual workers choose to work in an environment where we communicate directly with one another and we value productivity and performance over seniority, we are stripped of the opportunity to work, and our employees lose the opportunity to provide for their families. There are thousands of companies like ours here in New York that feel the same way, and as a result, when PLAs are enforced on public construction projects, competition to perform the work required for that project is severely limited .
And you don’t have to be an economic expert to know that when competition is limited, prices go up. It is an absolute fact, but a fact that big labor has spent years denying. So, let’s take all of the rhetorical arguments off the table, and let’s approach public construction in New York State a little differently, so we can really determine the impact of project labor agreements on the bottom line cost of public construction. Let’s bid projects both with and without a PLA, and let’s let the numbers speak for themselves. If PLAs are as good as their proponents (big labor) say they are and if they truly are about building projects in the most cost effective way, that will be proven when a “bid it both ways” approach is implemented. It will all come down to the numbers, and let’s face it, the numbers are what the taxpayers are ultimately on the hook for.
There is a bill floating around the halls of the State Legislature that would implement this “bid it both ways” approach, and if the Governor is serious about controlling costs, this is one way to insure that New York taxpayers are getting the biggest bang for their tax dollars where public construction is concerned. The Governor and the Legislature should seize this opportunity by expeditiously passing the Public Construction Savings Act (S4121/A.7855). New York State taxpayers deserve a cost effective approach to public construction.