Philly.com is reporting that the Philadelphia Police Department has arrested two union members for assault arising out of shenanigans at the Goldtex site.  Here is the video of the incident that led to the arrests:

In an early post this month, we asked if there should be more arrests of union leaders and members for engaging in the type of activity seen at the Goldtex site.  Unlike, the incident in New York, which prompted that post, where those charged were the organizers of the protest, the arrests here appear to be limited only to the individual protesters that took part in the assault.  In any event, the arrests are significant and is certainly the first time  in recent memory that union members have been criminal charged for there actions at a job site.  We will see if the Philadelphia District Attorneys Office – or even the US Attorneys Office – brings additional charges against any additional participants in the protests or, like in New York, union leaders themselves.

In cities like Philadelphia, trade union picketing of a non-union construction site is common place.  Mostly the picketing is tame,.  Occasionally, the unions step it up a notch and bring out a rat or two.  However, sometimes, like in the Goldtex dispute, these protests become rowdy, disruptive, and violent.  Often the owner of the non-union project is required to obtain an injunction to stop the picketers from destroying property or prohibiting access to the job site.  However, much to the chagrin of the project owner and the non-union contractor facing the pickets, rarely are any members of the picketing trade unions held criminal responsible for their actions.  In fact, in a city like Philadelphia it would be unprecedented if the District Attorneys Office brought criminal charges against union leaders who organized a protest of a non-union job site.

Not so in the City of New York, as reports the New York Times,  where two members of the local Laborers Union were recently indicted on charges of coercion, inciting to riot, and unlawful assembly. According to the Times, “[t]he indictment of the two union organizers is the latest chapter in a six-year battle between the construction unions and a prolific hotel developer and his contractors over substandard wages.”

The Manhattan District Attorneys Office’s decision to prosecute raises the question as to whether prosecution of organizers of over the line union protest should be more common place.  Obviously, prosecution of persons for activities which are in part protected by the First Amendment is concerning.  However, it often appears that unions are given a free pass for actions that would otherwise land someone in jail.  This case is worth following for those two competing concerns.  Moreover, if the DA is successful this case could represent a further shift in public opinion against unsavory union tactics.

Hurrah to the Wall Street Journal Opinion page today for taking on Project Labor Agreements.  The Journal’s opinion piece is by far the highest profile criticism of wasteful project labor agreements.  As the editors note, the tide of public opinion is turning squarely against project labor agreements even in those areas that are sympathetic to organized labor.

“As Andy Conlin of Associated Business and Contractors notes, wherever PLAs are subject to popular referendum, they’re rejected.”

The Journal calls project labor agreements

“a form of political bid-rigging that robs taxpayers even in good economic times.”

and calls for them to be outlawed.

What the article implies, but does not state, is that project labor agreements run contrary to the fundamental America values of free enterprises  and reward which is based on merit, not class, rank, or, in the case of PLA’s, political connections.  It is these values that explain why voters of all political persuasion find project labor agreements so distasteful.

Recently, the Regional Plan Association published a report “Construction Labor Cost in New York City,” which highlighted how union construction firms continue to lose market share to merit based firms.  A copy of this report is available for download here.  The report comes on the heels of a recent New York Times article regarding the proliferation of high profile New York City construction projects being built with non-union labor.  The problem according to both the report and the article is simple: union labor is too expensive and union work rules inefficient.

The trend towards more merit based construction jobs does not bode well for unions not only in New York City but nationwide.  As more and more owners grow comfortable with using non-union labor, trade unions will continue to lose power.  This trend could signal the tipping point in the battle between union and merit based construction.  In the end, union firms could be relegated to government awarded projects steered towards union firms through project labor agreements – which themselves have come under increased fire.

One thing is certain, as their market share dwindles, trade unions will undoubtedly become more aggressive in their tactics to protect their turf.  Therefore, merit firms and owners wanting to build non-union should be prepared to do battle where necessary.

The National Labor Relations Board’s decision in United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joinders of America, Local Union No.1506 (Eliason & Knuth of Arizona, Inc.)  355 NLRB 159 has received a great deal of discussion after the Board held that “bannering” was a “non-coercive” activity that did not violate Section 8(b)(4)(ii)(B) of the NLRA.  For those wondering what the current NLRB does consider coercive, the NLRB’s recent decision in Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters (Silverline Construction) provides clear guidance.  A copy of the NLRB’s decision can be downloaded here:  Board Decision

There the NLRB found that the Carpenter’s Union restrained and coerced the rights of employees of a merit shop subcontractor, Silverline Construction, Inc.,  when they engaging in the following acts:

  • pushing and shoving Silverline employees;
  • kicking Silverline employees’ lunchboxes out of their hands;
  • tackling, kicking, shoving, or punching Silverline employees;
  • threatening Silverline employees with physical harm by challenging them to fight;
  • surveillance of Silverline employees by videotaping them as they enter job sites;
  • throwing objects at Silverline employees;
  • in the presence of employees, throwing objects at Silverline supervisors;
  • in the presence of employees, pushing and shoving Silverline supervisors;
  • in the presence of employees, assaulting and choking a Silverline supervisor;
  • in the presence of employees, threatening Silverline supervisors with physical harm by challenging them to fight;
  • in the presence of employees, threatening a supervisor of a subcontractor of Silverline with physical harm by challenging the supervisor to fight;
  • assaulting employees of a subcontractor of Silverline by striking, punching, and grabbing them;
  • in the presence of employees, assaulting supervisors of a subcontractor of Silverline by striking, punching, and grabbing them.

Thankfully, the Board has given us clear guidance on how far a union who is in a “labor dispute” with a contractor can go before they will be sanctioned.

According to the Des Moines register, two union trade organizations have sued Iowa Governor  Terry Branstad and 10 other elected officials over Governor Branstad’s executive order banning Project Labor Agreements on Iowa Public Projects.  A copy of the Executive Order can be downloaded here:  Iowa PLA Executive Order

The Complaint challenges the removal of PLA’s from the bid specification on two state projects pursuant to the Governor’s Executive Order.  A copy of the complaint is available here:  Central Iowa Building and Construction Trades, et. al. v. Terry E. Branstad, et. al Interestingly, the Unions allege that the National Labor Relations Act preempts the Governor’s Executive Order.  This argument is typically one that is used by opponents of PLA’s seeking to invalidate them.  It is also an argument which Federal Court’s have routinely denied.  Indeed, recently, the Supreme Court declined to review a 9th Circuit Opinion which refused to strike a PLA as preemepted under the NLRA.

Perhaps the best argument the unions make is that PLA’s are binding contracts requiring them to be utilized once the public entity executes it.  The complaint does not attach a copy of the PLA in question.

As PLA’s face increased scrutiny from cash strapped state and local governments, it will be interesting to see how this case plays out.    Stay tuned.