Last edited 08 Aug 2018

Project labor agreement (PLA)

In the United States, a project labor agreement (PLA), also known as a community workforce agreement, is a pre-hire agreement that can be used on both public and private construction projects. PLAs are authorised under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

The purpose of a PLA is to establish in advance the terms and conditions of employment for a construction project, and specific provisions can be agreed according to the particular project requirements and those of the signatory parties. A PLA takes precedence over any pre-existing collective bargaining agreements that may have been set by trade unions (or labor organisations), and applies to all contractors and subcontractors who successfully bid to work on the project.

Typically, a PLA enables non-union workers to work on union-controlled construction projects, with the parties (usually the project owner and trade union/s) agreeing working conditions, labour rates, benefits, and so on. Right-to-work laws mean that PLAs cannot limit project participation just to union contractors. Unions have to advocate on behalf of non-union member workers on the project as well.

Some of the common agreement clauses that can be used in PLAs include:

In the US, PLAs were first used on construction projects in the 1930s but became more contentious during the 1980s; particularly in relation to their use on publicly-funded projects. Their use and non-use has been the subject of several executive orders, most recently one signed by President Obama in 2009 which encouraged the use of PLAs by federal agencies on federal construction projects costing over $25 million.

The use of PLAs is supported by construction trade unions and other bodies who argue that they can help large and complex projects complete on time and to budget by helping project owners control costs and reduce the likelihood of disruptions. It is also argued that the use of PLAs provides an assurance of quality and better working conditions.

However, the use of PLAs is opposed by some on the grounds that they can discriminate against non-union workers and contractors and discourage open trade and fair competition. In addition, opponents dislike the fact that the use of PLAs means that that non-union contractors must pay dues to the union and obey their rules while working on a project. It is also argued that they increase costs for project owners and are unfair for the majority of workers in the construction industry who are non-unionised (recent estimates suggest around 86%).

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