The extent and huge costs of the damage from Hurricane Sandy to New Jersey should make rebuilding the worst affected areas a priority for Garden State lawmakers. That would include keeping down costs. Yet the Democrat-controlled New Jersey State Senate is trying to do the exact opposite. Last week it passed, along a 23-13 party-live vote, a bill (S2425) that expands the use of project labor agreements (PLAs) in state construction projects.
Astoundingly, the Senate did not consider any other legislation. “So in these days post-Sandy, we’ve been called back to debate only one bill,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-Union). “This is one bill that has the potential to change that recovery estimate, if the cost estimates are right, form 10 completed projects to 9 completed projects.”
Project labor agreements disadvantage nonunion contractors through the imposition of burdensome rules similar to those faced by their unionized competitors. Under a PLA, nonunion contractors can be required to employ workers from union hiring halls, recruit trainees from union apprentice programs, and even collect union dues.
PLAs are also a bad deal for taxpayers. A 2010 New Jersey Labor Department study found that PLAs increased school construction costs by 30.5 percent per square foot. It also found that the average duration for PLA projects during fiscal year 2008 was 100 weeks, while for non-PLA projects it was 78 weeks (pp. 3-4).
In a Bergen County Record op-ed, State Senator Gerard Cardinale (R-Demarest) writes that the bill "tilts the playing field in favor of 14 percent of the workforce that is unionized and against 86 percent of non-unionized workers struggling in the aftermath of the Great Recession and superstorm Sandy." He goes on:
It is appalling that this is the only Sandy recovery bill that the Senate Democrats posted for a vote. Ironically, it increases the cost of recovery projects; it is a direct burden to Sandy victims, New Jersey families and their communities. Plus, the added cost of PLAs may eliminate other necessary public projects and the jobs that they create.
New Jersey has been through enough with Sandy. Governor Chris Christie has never been shy about standing up for his home state's interests. He should do so again and veto this brazen union giveaway.
For more on PLAs, see here.