FRANKFORT, Ky. — A bill that would bar public agencies from requiring agreements between labor organizations and public works contractors Wednesday passed the House Local Government Committee.
Supporters of House Bill 135 say the bill would lower the cost of public works projects and save Kentucky taxpayers money.
“As public servants, I think it’s our duty to make sure (agencies) get the best bids at the best price and do quality work at the same time,” HB 135 sponsor Rep. Phillip Pratt, R-Georgetown, told the committee. He said mandatory “project labor agreements,” or PLAs, with labor groups limit competition.
Pratt’s bill is supported by Ben Brubek, a representative from Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. – a national association that supports “merit” contractors who are mostly non-union. Brubek told the committee that PLAs typically increase construction costs by as much as 18 percent.
Opponents to HB 135 say the bill, if passed, could affect the quality of future large-scale, high-skill projects. Larry Roberts, a former director for the Kentucky State Building and Construction Trades Council, told the panel that PLAs benefit construction projects by ensuring local, trained workers including minorities and women—who Roberts said are often sought by public sector projects —are included in those projects.
“That’s a type of benefit that you derive out of having a project labor agreement because … apprenticeship and training in the construction industry is very critical,” said Roberts. Building trades groups in Kentucky, he said, invest over $10 million per year in apprenticeship and other training programs.
Roberts went on to say that there are no mandatory PLAs in existence in Kentucky. Of the public works-related PLAs that have been signed, Roberts said “100 percent of those contractors were not union contractors nor were they required to join and sign a contract with a union.”
Committee chair Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, asked if anything in HB 135 would prevent contractors from entering into voluntary PLAs. Roberts said there is not.
Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, said he thinks the bill sounds like wise policy.
“I’m here trying to serve the members of my district and the taxpayers, quite frankly, all over the state. And it’s my understanding based on my reading of this legislation that it would save the taxpayers’ money … whenever we have the opportunity to do that, I think it’s wise to move forward in that regard,” said Lee.
Twenty four other states have passed legislation similar to HB 135, which now goes to the full House for its consideration.