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Mandatory, union-favoring PLAs must go

State Rep. Rob Hutton

State Rep. Rob Hutton is a Republican from Brookfield representing Wisconsin’s 13th Assembly District.

Having been recently elected to serve my third term as representative of the 13th Assembly District, I am honored to have two more years to serve my constituents.

My goals over the past two sessions have been to evaluate the role our government plays in our lives and to remove barriers to personal and economic growth. Last session, thanks to an effort by the governor, my fellow legislators and concerned citizens, we were able to reform the state’s prevailing-wage laws. The changes we adopted will help remove artificial, unscientific formulas that reduce competition and inflate construction costs.

This session, Sen. Leah Vukmir and I have introduced legislation to reform Wisconsin’s project-labor agreement laws. The intent of the legislation is not to ban PLAs outright. Builders and project owners will have the right to continue using the agreements if they want.

Rather, the legislation prohibits the state or local municipalities from requiring bidders to enter into a PLA in order to win a public contract. Like eliminating prevailing wages, this change will give more contractors an opportunity to bid on projects and provide the best rate for their completion.

PLAs often limit competition by imposing undue regulations or circumstances that would put nonunion contractors at a disadvantage. Some common restrictions call on companies to: only hiring employees from the local union halls, pay into union pension funds even though their employees may never receive a union pension benefit, recognize unions and their representatives on the job that the PLA is attached to, and obey unions’ apprenticeship and work rules.

These restrictions put nonunion contractors at a disadvantage from the beginning. With stipulations that could require them to double their workforce and double their payments for pension benefits, most nonunion contractors decline to even submit a bid. This decrease in competition leads to fewer groups competing for contracts, often leading to inflated prices. PLAs can also prevent the very same taxpayers who are paying for government projects from using their talents to build them.

Earlier this year, we sent out a memo to inform other legislators about what PLAs are and asked them to co-sponsor the legislation. With the help of concerned citizens and experts on the subject, we managed to get 46 representatives and senators to sign on as co-authors.

We believe this simple legislation will promote government neutrality on the public projects that we all pay for. For that reason, we expect the proposal to garner strong support and move to the governor’s desk early in the session.

Discussions concerning regulations and efficiencies are now becoming only more important, with state agencies having submitted their budget proposals and the debate over transportation spending growing more intense. By targeting PLA reform, we can give more contractors an opportunity to compete for vertical and horizontal projects and ensure that we are getting the best value for Wisconsin taxpayers.

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