Although it lacks any compelling reasons for doing so, the Patrick administration is continuing to impose project labor agreements on some major state projects. Those agreements restrict work to contractors who agree to use union labor and abide by union work rules, effectively excluding the state's nonunion firms and nonunion workers, and raising costs at a time when the state's transportation coffers are already running dry.
In March, the administration put a PLA on the $260 million reconstruction of the Longfellow Bridge. In June, it slapped one on a $265 million project to rebuild the Whittier Memorial Bridge, which carries Interstate 95 traffic over the Merrimack River between Amesbury and Newburyport. The administration has also previously used a project labor agreement to restrict $750 million in renovation and reconstruction work at the University of Massachusetts at Boston to union labor.
Now, several studies have indicated that these agreements push the price of construction projects up significantly. When the Beacon Hill Institute, Suffolk University's market-oriented think tank, looked at school-construction projects in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York, it found that PLAs had added at least 12 percent to construction costs. Other studies have suggested that limiting bidders boosts prices even more. Unions dispute such conclusions, but the usual effect of restricting competition is to increase prices. The net result is that, because of the labor agreements, the state will end up spending tens of millions of dollars that could otherwise have been directed toward other road projects or toward long overdue transit repairs.