Wisconsin lawmakers on a legislative committee are scheduled to vote Thursday on a bill that would prohibit governments from attaching mandatory project-labor agreements to public projects.
The state Senate’s Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform is scheduled to vote on the proposal at a meeting starting at 10 a.m. Thursday at the state Capitol. Senate Bill 3, as the legislation is formally named, would not ban all PLAs on government projects — only those that contractors must sign as a condition of winning a public contract. Construction companies would still be free to adopt a PLA after winning a bid.
Proponents of the proposed ban argue that mandatory PLAs often direct government jobs to unionized companies by requiring winning bidders to contribute to union-run health and pension funds and to recruit workers through local labor halls.
Even though non-union contractors can technically still compete for contracts with mandatory PLAs, most choose not to after calculating what the additional compliance costs would add to their bid prices. Non-union company officials complain that any payments to union health and pension funds would come on top of the benefits they already provide; they also note that their employees would most likely never be able to take advantage of union-provided benefits.
By setting up obstacles to nonunion bidding, critics argue, governments effectively suppress the competition that is supposed to hold down the cost of public projects.
Those on the other side of the argument point out that PLAs are seldom required on government contracts in Wisconsin. They portray the debate largely as one over local control. If government officials have had good experiences with mandatory PLAs in the past, they ask, why should they be barred from using them again?
Proponents of Senate Bill 3, which was given a public hearing in Madison last week, counter by noting that bidding rules are generally set by state government. The resulting uniformity helps to invite competition for public contracts throughout Wisconsin.
Thursday’s vote on Senate Bill 3 will be done by paper ballot, meaning that the senators on the Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform will not be physically present. If the bill is approved then, it will move on to the full Legislature.
Lawmakers on the state Assembly’s committee on labor also heard testimony last week on Assembly Bill 24, a companion bill that would also ban mandatory PLAs on government projects. A vote has yet to be scheduled on that proposal.Follow @TDR_WLJDan