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Mitch DeBlois is the President of DeBlois Electric in Lewiston and the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Associated Builders and Contractors in Maine.
Taxpayers should be alarmed by proposed state legislation that could unnecessarily increase taxpayer-funded construction costs, discourage competition from the local construction industry, and channel contracts to non-state campaign contributors. These policies would likely only benefit strong special interests, rather than creating opportunities for Maine businesses and their employees to compete for public works contracts on an equal footing.
These are legislative proposals that would create incentives or, in some cases, controversial government-mandated project work arrangements for certain taxpayer-funded construction projects.
When government contracts or PLAs are mandated by governments, they discourage qualified, local, non-union contractors – like my company – from employing 89.5 percent of Maine construction workers to build tax-funded projects.
Government-mandated PLAs force contractors to follow often inefficient union labor rules and hire most or all of the craftsmen on a construction site in certain union hiring halls and apprenticeship programs in lieu of skilled workers and apprentices already employed by companies. This limits the pool of bidders as non-union contractors do not want to give up their existing staff and quality control practices – key components of a safe and productive workplace – to strangers from union halls who are subject to unknown rules.
In addition, Maine construction workers would have to pay unnecessary contributions to unions as a condition of employment under PLA mandates. Workers could suffer wage theft because non-union workers (and some union workers) lose an estimated 20 percent of wages and benefits earned on a PLA project unless they accept union representation, join a specific union, pay membership dues, and vesting the union performance plan requirements.
Taxpayers also lose out under PLAs. Multiple studies show that government-mandated PLAs increase the final construction cost of building schools by up to 20 percent compared to building non-PLA schools in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio, themselves when school projects are the subject of applicable wage laws with or without PLAs, as is the case in Maine.
With so many school building and other infrastructure needs, Maine just can’t afford this waste.
For these reasons, 24 states are banning government-mandated PLAs for public construction projects, ensuring fair and open competition in tax-financed construction projects so that the public can get the best possible construction projects at the best possible price. In fact, Maine taxpayers benefited from a similar bill that ran from 2011 until its sunset in October 2015, and its renewal was hindered by the Democratic Legislature.
Now that they have full control over the legislation, Democratic Party’s lawmakers and their union promoters are pushing for new bills that will result in fewer new schools, libraries, affordable housing, roads, bridges, and infrastructure improvements, or tax increases or cuts in other major programs the EU could lead to salaries of public employees such as teachers, police and firefighters.
Special interests – mostly construction union lobbyists and their members, who make up only 10.5 percent of private construction workers in Maine – have made the adoption of pro-PLA and so-called responsible contractor guidelines a top priority in the final days of the 2021 legislature Order gain market share with the help of friendly legislators.
Should these laws pass, Maine construction companies and their workers will suffer as they are largely non-unionized and prevented from competing for projects subject to these special regulations. In the meantime, large Massachusetts and New York companies and their unionized workforce will have an unfair advantage and disrupt the local market at the expense of Maine companies and their skilled construction workers.
In the wake of the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Maine lawmakers should do everything possible to support our local recovery. Visit BuildMaineLocal.com to message lawyers in Maine today, letting them know that you oppose PLAs and other anti-competitive and costly laws. Local taxpayers, blue-collar workers, and small businesses should come first.