In Illinois government contracting, you’ve long needed to pay to play. You also need a PLA.
A PLA is a project labor agreement. It is a collective bargaining agreement with unions that establishes contract terms before a construction project starts. They are so important to local Democratic leaders that they passed up $52 million from the feds over PLAs.
Unions, and the Democrats they support, tout PLAs as a way to avoid work stoppages, ensure quality and bring projects in on budget. Opponents say they are anti-competitive and drive up costs.
Government studies have failed to show whether PLAs help or hurt taxpayers, but they cannot be mandated in federal projects so that tells you something. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is willing to allow, but refuses to force bidders to use them.
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Still, the local Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council that voters funded with a quarter-cent sales tax to get our area in compliance with the federal dictates on 100-year level of flood control is pushing the Corps to require them. At issue are local projects aimed at the longer-term goal of creating a 500-year level of flood protection.
St. Clair County Chairman Mark Kern and Madison County Chairman Alan Dunstan, both Democrats, have significant sway over the district council and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-most powerful Democrat in that chamber, all vocally support PLAs. They want the Corps using them on local projects as a way to boost local job opportunities.
They want PLAs so badly that they turned their backs on $52 million in federal funding during the past two fiscal years over the PLA issue. That $52 million was reallocated to other levee projects elsewhere. That money could have created a slew of local jobs.
The recent fuss is about a small levee project near Wood River for $2.4 million that involves no local district money. Local Democrats want to tell the Corps to spend it on a contractor using a PLA. There were four bidders and none had PLAs in place.
“This decision is baffling to a community that has made it abundantly clear that this project contain a PLA,” Durbin said.
Most of that long-term, 500-year levee construction receives a 35 percent local and 65 percent federal funding mix. This one doesn’t, so really what is baffling is why local Democrats think they have a say in this matter.
PLAs may be a nice idea — or not — but why in the world are they worth $52 million to local Democrats? Makes you wonder for which constituents they are performing this little passion play.