Even though the vast majority of American construction workers do not belong to a labor union, federal government policy discriminates against these workers when awarding government construction projects. An attempt to put a stop to this took place on Feb. 19 in the U.S. House of Representatives, but the attempt failed on a tie vote of 210-210. Two Michigan Republicans were amongst the 26 GOP “no” voters who could have broken the tie and won the vote for the “yes” side. All of the 210 “yes” votes were Republicans. The amendment had no Democrat support.
The two Republicans from Michigan that voted “no” were Candice Miller, R-Harrison Twp., and Thad McCotter, R-Livonia.
Frank Guinta, R-NH, introduced the amendment at issue as part of the federal budget showdown over the “Continuing Appropriations Act.” Guinta’s amendment proposed to put a halt to government construction contracts that require a “project labor agreement.” A PLA artificially restricts the number of contractors who may bid on a public construction job so that only firms with unionized workers may apply. A study commissioned by the federal government has shown that PLAs can increase costs to taxpayers by almost 10 percent, while other recent research has shown that the added cost may be well above 10 percent.
“Project labor agreements are basically just a mechanism to cut off non-union competition,” said Paul Kersey, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center. “They do nothing to improve quality of workmanship or labor peace on the job site.”
The effect of the federal PLA requirement is to exclude 86 percent of the construction workforce from bidding on government contracts. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that less than 14 percent of U.S. construction workers belong to a union.
“This vote was an attempt to level the playing field and give all workers equal treatment,” said F. Vincent Vernuccio, labor policy counsel for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “It was to prohibit the federal government from expending funds favoring unions over the vast majority of other workers.”
CEI has created a “Labor Scorecard” for the U.S. House of Representatives. The purpose of it is to track votes on “pro-worker legislation,” according to Vernuccio. So far for the 112th Congress, there are three votes being scored on the site, with U.S. Reps. McCotter and Miller voting against all three of the pro-worker positions identified by CEI.
The pair were “reacting to a special interest within their congressional district,” namely labor unions, says Vernuccio when asked how Michigan ended up with two of the 26 Republicans to vote with the Democrats. He believes PLA votes will come up again in the near future with other budget bills and other votes on labor reform.
McCotter and Miller are the only GOP representatives from Michigan to earn an “F” on the CEI labor scorecard to this point. All of the Michigan Democrats are currently scored as an “F.”
Three Michigan Republicans are currently scored as an “A+,” having voted CEI’s pro-worker position on all three votes. They are Justin Amash, R-Grand Rapids; Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls; and Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland.
“It is disappointing that any member of congress would cast a vote to tolerate wasteful spending and discrimination on the basis of whether businesses and workers affiliate with a labor organization,” said Chris Fisher, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan, when asked about the votes of Miller and McCotter. ABC is a national construction industry trade group that represents “merit-shop” or non-union building contractors. They are a strong proponent of abolishing PLAs.
“Instead of government picking winners and losers, all citizens deserve equal opportunity to work on projects funded by their tax dollars,” said Fisher. “Unfortunately, special interest handouts for union-only PLAs were put ahead of workers, businesses and taxpayers."
Leon Drolet, chairman of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, was particularly blunt regarding the pair of Republicans and what he believes was their attitude toward taxpayers with this vote.
“I hope they got their 30 pieces of silver,” he said.
The offices of Miller and McCotter each received two email requests for comment but did not respond.
Joe Casey, president of the New Hampshire Building Trades Council, a labor union in the home state of Congressman Guinta, opposed the amendment.
“It is a business model that offers increased job site efficiencies through a steady, local supply of the safest, most highly trained and productive skilled craft work force known to mankind — a work force developed through almost a billion dollars a year in private investments in apprenticeship training programs nationwide that, in turn, develops a work force that commands pay and benefits that are reflective of their skill and productivity levels (which numerous and rigorous academic studies have shown actually reduces costs for public agencies),” he wrote of PLAs in a recent newspaper column criticizing Guinta. “And, let's not forget, those higher pay rates contribute to a more sound local tax base — not to mention the health of local small businesses like car dealerships, restaurants and retail stores.”