The Concrete Union strike in New York and subsequent walk off on the World Trade Center Memorial and Madison Square Garden projects  made minor fanfare this week.    What many do not realize is that the Concrete Union was the signatory to a project labor agreement (“PLA”) covering these project which is supposed to prevent strikes, walkouts, and labor stoppages.  As Crain’s New York Business reported:

“Workers are not supposed to strike at sites where developers and unions inked project labor agreements, but an industry source said concrete workers did not show up Monday for their jobs at the new Weill Cornell Medical Center research building on East 69th Street, a project that does have such an agreement. The source said a request for an arbitration hearing was made to the Building and Construction Trades Council.”

Unions sell PLA’s to private developers and government bodies as a way to prevent strikes and walkouts and to assure overall labor “peace.”  However, the situation in New York draws into question whether Unions can continue to make this selling point.

The strikes in New York also unmask the true intentions of Unions when promoting  the use of PLA’s.  While Unions claim PLA’s prevent strikes and walkouts, clearly this is not the case.  The ABC has a great post about repeated violations of the No Work Stoppage/No Strike clauses in PLA’s by unions throughout the country. Apparently, Labor does not deny that these No Strike Clauses are being repeatedly violated.  Moreover, the collective bargaining agreement between a local union and a signatory contractor likely already prevents strikes and walkouts.  Thus, what the Unions are really saying when they pitch PLA’s as a way to guarantee labor “peace” is that the job will be free from unlawful secondary picketing, threats of violence, and other shenanigans Unions pull to get their way.  In other words, PLA’s are a veiled form of extortion.  And, on government funding projects, what do the taxpayers get in return for extracted labor “peace?”  Typically, projects that cost more and take longer to complete.

What is even troubling about Union violations of a PLA is that owners are apparently powerless to stop the violation.  The Norris–La Guardia Act Anti-Injunction Act, which, as those that followed the NFL lockout will recall, prohibits a court from issuing an injunction that interferes with a labor strike and, thus, ordering workers striking in violation of a PLA back to work.  Moreover, even if the Act did not apply, it is doubtful – indeed the standard is very high – that a Court would issue an injunction forcing someone to return to work.

Conversely,  if a contractor violates a PLA by not hiring employees through the hall the consequences are severe.  Potentially, a contractor could be required to pay contributions to the local union’s benefit funds for the non-union employees that worked on the job, whether those employees were actually union members or not.  Because those contributions are based on the  the number of hours each employee worked on the job, the financial liability can quickly add up to significant amounts.  Furthermore, the officers of the offending firm face personal liability to the Union Funds for these contributions.

Hopefully, this recent dust up over PLA’s will continue to erode public support for them.  If Unions do not honor PLA’s what is their purpose?