Project Labor Agreements, also called Community Workforce Agreements or
Project Stabilization Agreements, emerged in the 1930s as basic pre-hire
agreements between the owner or contractor and the local building
trades unions . These basic agreements set standard pay and benefit
rates across the trades and prevented any work stoppages with no-strike,
no-lockout, and speedy dispute-resolution provisions. Owners and
contractors soon recognized the clear economic and managerial value of
the PLA business model, and its use rapidly increased during WWII. By
the 1980s, PLAs were common in both the public and private sectors, and
had begun to evolve into the Project Labor Agreements in use today.
Modern PLAs are negotiated on a case-by-case basis, and include
sophisticated provisions that keep jobs running smoothly, promote
efficiencies, and nurture the development of a skilled workforce.
Project Labor Agreements are agreed upon before a project is bid, so
that all contractors and subcontractors will know exactly what to expect
on the project and can cooperate to reach common goals. Successful
bidders—whether union or non-union—will then hire workers for the
project through the union referral system. The referral system ensures
that all workers have top-notch training in safety and the crafts, which
prevents costly mistakes and accidents .
Today, Project Labor Agreements in the public sector focus on creating a
positive community impact as well as promoting on-time, on-budget
completion. These PLAs are crafted to address the specific needs of the
project and the community, including provisions for local hiring,
minority and at-risk targeted training programs, minority-owned small
businesses, apprenticeship ratios, scheduling, work rules, safety,
cost-containment, management-rights and specialized procedures. It also
enables community groups and schools to partner with local unions to
connect people from low-income neighborhoods with training and a career
in the building trades.
Project Labor Agreements have been used as successful
business models for complex construction projects since before WWII.
During the New Deal era, big public works projects such as the Hoover
Dam, Grand Coulee Dam, and Shasta Dam were all built using early PLAs,
and the use of the model rapidly increased during the war. With dozens
of different organizations working on a project, construction managers
foresaw an endless series of labor negotiations as one contract after
another came up for renewal, each inspiring fears of threats or delays.
The elegantly simple solution to the problem was to put all workers
under a single, umbrella contract that applied only to the specific
The basic PLA structure allows for great flexibility, and these
agreements have evolved to fit the needs of the economy and different
jobs. When price competition was steep in the 1980s, for example,
stop-loss agreements offered concessions to offer high-quality labor for
low prices. In the 90s, union membership and apprenticeship rates
were down and construction users struggled to find qualified craft
construction workers that had historically come out of union
apprenticeship programs. Managers adopted PLAs as a mutually-beneficial
option for ensuring the availability of skilled labor and providing
sustainable job opportunities for many union workers.
Project Labor Agreements have been instrumental in building scores of
large projects across the nation. The Kennedy Space Center, nuclear
missile sites, and the Trans-Alaskan pipeline all utilized PLAs. Other
notable PLA projects include the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), the
nuclear research facility at Oak Ridge, San Francisco International
Airport’s newest terminals, St. Lawrence Seaway, Disney World, Cape
Canaveral, Port of Seattle, Port of Oakland, TF Green Airport, the
Woodrow Wilson Bridge, Seattle Seahawks Stadium, Safeco Field, and the
Washington Nationals Stadium.
Perhaps surprisingly, most PLAs have been used in the private sector.
During the 1980’s and 1990’s, for example, Disney, Toyota, General
Motors, and major oil companies all used PLAs for major construction
projects. In fact, Toyota has used Project Labor Agreements on all of
its major construction projects, totaling more than 38 million hours of
construction labor, since the mid-1980s . Toyota reports that their per
foot construction costs are one-third less than those of the competitors
who eschew the use of Project Labor Agreements. Bechtel has utilized
project labor agreements on over 100 large construction jobs nationwide
in the last twenty-five years, most of which are in the private sector.
Bechtel has used PLAs mainly on industrial construction projects such
as oil refineries, power plants, aluminum plants, and heavy and highway
In the past 20 years, opponents of PLAs such as the Associated Building
Contractors (ABC) have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on
litigation and lobbying campaigns to prevent the use of PLAs on public
projects, arguing that they discriminate against non-union contractors
and employees or force them to unionize. In the landmark Boston Harbor
case of 1993, the United States Supreme Court considered whether public
PLAs violated federal law . The court (which included two of the most
conservative judges in history in Antony Scalia and Clarence Thomas)
was unanimous in upholding the legality of PLAs. Public agencies, the
court held, have just as much right as a private purchasers to choose
PLAs “to attempt to ensure an efficient project that would be completed
as quickly and effectively as possible at the lowest cost.” The Court
also emphasized that all contractors, regardless of union status, are
free to choose whether to bid on PLA projects:
“Confronted with [a PLA job], those contractors who do not normally
enter such agreements are faced with a choice. They may alter their
usual mode of operation to secure the business opportunity at hand, or
seek business from purchasers whose perceived needs to not include a
project labor agreement.”
The Council has been involved in several local project labor agreements in Northern Nevada the majority of which have been on private work. Such projects included John Asquaga's Nugget Casino, Newmont Gold's Mills 4 & 5 and their ROT project, Sierra Pacific Chalk Bluff Water Treatment Plant and the One Line owned by Great Basin Transmission and NV Energy.
The use of standing international project labor agreements like the National Maintenance Agreement has been prevalent here in Northern Nevada whenever it is essential to the project owner that a project come in on schedule and under budget. Our Affiliates pride themselves in their ability to provide quality journeyman and apprentice tradesmen to their signatory contractors and this also applies to all projects constructed under PLAs.
In recent years the Council has completed work under the first public works PLA in Northern Nevada when we partnered with Devcon Construction to build the Reno Aces Triple A baseball stadium. The project was completed under strict deadlines and budget and both were met. When the project was completed it set a new standard for timeliness by taking less time than any similar project ever constructed in the United States.
Our Council also recently signed onto the Southern Nevada Water Authority's standing PLA to address any possible construction in the Council's jurisdiction.
We are committed to utilizing PLAs to assure that Nevada's work force performs the work on Nevada's projects and that those workers make a living wage and are provided with Health & Welfare and Pension Benefits as well as access to quality apprenticeship and journeyman upgrade training. Only in this way will Nevada construction workers find themselves in a pursuit of a career in construction where they have a future.