Op-Ed | Project labor agreements bring accountability to large scale SUNY projects

Bill Banfield
Photo Credit: Suzanne Barki

With annual budget negotiations heating up in Albany, blue collar workers are calling on policymakers to pass legislation that will restore accountability and bring effective labor standards to the public university development process. This idea is based on a simple principle – when New York taxpayer funds are used on a project, that investment should go back into New York communities. 

Both the Senate and Assembly have included language in their budget proposals that would require project labor agreements (PLA) for large scale SUNY construction projects. A PLA is an agreement that defines wages and work rules for a project, and is approved by labor and the awarding public body before the project begins. The purpose of a PLA is to ensure that all construction work be performed efficiently and economically without interruption.

The main rationale for PLAs in the construction industry is stability. By clearly and transparently defining a framework at the start of a project, PLAs prevent work stoppages and establish dispute resolution procedures. 

Private construction projects have utilized PLAs for decades. The $265 million Legoland theme park in Goshen was built with union labor under a PLA, as was the $200 million renovation of Morgan Stanley headquarters in Harrison. These are just two recent examples of successful large projects that came in on time and on budget, thanks to a project labor agreement. 

On publicly-funded projects, PLAs protect taxpayers the same way. They ensure that a project is built on budget and on schedule, by and for New Yorkers. PLAs often include local hiring provisions which ensure that local residents have job opportunities and cycle money into the local economy. They can be used to promote diversity in the workforce and expand opportunities to more New Yorkers. 

PLAs also encourage higher quality contractors to bid on projects. Without hidden costs, contractors can make specific bids without worrying about being undercut by a less scrupulous contractors who cut corners. PLAs are used to maintain safe work sites by requiring workers to have safety training and meet advanced OSHA standards. This reduces costs associated with work-site injuries.   

PLAs ensure that when our tax dollars are investment on a large project, that investment drives economic growth for the state’s economy and for real New Yorkers. By ensuring contractors meet basic labor standards, this commonsense approach protects construction workers, taxpayers, and the construction industry. With the Legislature on board, the next step is up to the Governor. 

Bill Banfield is Assistant Executive Secretary-Treasurer for the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters.