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LABOR: Agreements serve the public interest

Letter by Mark P. Martinez, Tacoma on March 16, 2012 at 11:26 am with 34 Comments »
March 16, 2012 1:24 pm

Re: “More use of labor agreements in public projects raises costs for taxpayers” (Viewpoint, 3-15).

So the use of a market-based, project-efficiency tool like project labor agreements (PLAs) for public construction don’t pass muster with the Associated General Contractors of Washington.

I wonder what they have against promoting career opportunities for local residents or strongly encouraging the use of minority- and women-owned contractors. Maybe the AGC would like to import cheap labor and have local construction workers (who pay the taxes to fund these projects) sit home unemployed.

Perhaps the AGC doesn’t like the way Toyota conducts its cost-conscious and profit-orientated business model by building all of its North American factories under PLAs.

In a February 2011 letter to the Building & Construction Trades Department, company President Tetsuo Agata wrote, “Large-scale construction projects pose unique challenges for corporations such as ours that maintain the highest standards of safety, efficiency and productivity. To address these challenges, Toyota has consistently employed project labor agreements for our major construction projects, and could not have been more pleased with the results.”

It seems to me that in the name of good business practice, government should be able to use proven tools to build our schools and infrastructure. PLAs have that proven track record. For further information on PLAs, go to www.PLAsWork.org.

(Martinez is executive secretary of the Pierce County Building & Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO.)

Leave a comment Comments → 34
  1. cclngthr says:

    I’m afraid, Mark, your argument won’t fly with many people, including myself, (I am a teacher).

    1. Labor agreements only focus on the worker benefit; not the end product. A worker being guaranteed certain things does not always mean the end product is perfect; as I would expect if I were paying good money for it. I expect construction to have absolutely ZERO flaws and absolutely ZERO problems or adaptations to the project.

    I speak of the errors in judgement of the construction of the SR 16 overpass on the Nalley Valley project. I’m sure the workers saw the error before it was built; then torn down and rebuilt.

    2. Are workers really knowledgeable in their craft? I would expect they should be if I’m paying their wage and benefit package.

    3. Are workers really worth that high of a wage? This gets into the #2 I mentioned. To me, if a person is not doing the job correctly, and carelessly, they don’t deserve that high of a wage.

    I know a company who rebuilt Puyallup High School, and one of the supervisors, who lived near me told me there were multiple problems and stop work orders because the construction/remodel was not going to the government standards or plans. To me, why should we pay for shoddy work?

    Contracting is a competitive business, and regardless of it being owned by a male or female, we should select the best contractor for the job under the budget we have. We also have to demand the perfection of the end result once it is finished before payment is made.

  2. One thing for sure, you pay peanuts you get monkeys!

  3. sandblower says:

    ccingthr, you are crying for utopia. Not possible under any circumstance. We are dealing with fallible human beings in case you missed it.

  4. LornaDoone says:

    An old saying – “good, cheap, quick – pick two”

  5. LornaDoone says:

    “I expect construction to have absolutely ZERO flaws and absolutely ZERO problems or adaptations to the project.”

    Uh, yeah. I expect to win the lottery tomorrow. Guess what?

  6. tree_guy says:

    The use of high priced labor is always justified by claiming that the resulting job is of much higher calibur, but when when things go badly the excuse is that we are dealing with fallible human beings. I guess the labor movement wants it both ways.

    I say if we are going to hire fallible human beings then lets hire the least expensive fallible human beings.

  7. You get what you pay for.

  8. tree_guy says:

    “You get what you pay for.” bandito

    This isn’t true and repeating it doesn’t make it so. I’ll provide an example. Last year the taxpayers spent a great amount of money to build an exit ramp off I-5. It was designed and built by the most expensive build team the state could assemble. The engineers and construction workers were all well paid. Unfortunately no one noticed it was built in the wrong place until it was too late. Cost to the taxpayers? $700,000. Bandito, did we get what we paid for?

  9. Fibonacci says:

    tree-guy
    So, a cheaper outfit would not have made the mistakes?

    ccingthr
    “Your argument won’t fly with many people, including myself (I am a teacher)”——–What a does your job have to do with it? HIs argument does fly with me (I am a teacher also–and not part time auto shop).

  10. Look how well hiring private contractors has worked in Iraq. You get what you pay for.

  11. Vox_clamantis_in_deserto says:

    … Toyota conducts its cost-conscious and profit-orientated business model by building all of its North American factories under PLAs.

    And then hires it’s non-union permanent labor force to man them.

    But Mr. union boss conveniently leaves out the most obvious difference:
    PLA’s for constructing factories were negotiated by and between Toyota, it’s prime (general) contractor, project management team, and labor (unions). In the Viewpoint piece, Steve Isenhart is specifically referring to the dangers of negotiating public sector PLA’s, by and between government agencies and unions. And we’re all now painfully familiar with how well that works out, aren’t we Mark.

    At a minimum, it’s a very tenuous comparison between a PLA that Toyota, GM, or Boing negotiates for a construction project, and one negotiated by and between unions and public employees in the cozy atmosphere of a back office in some public agency or authority’s building, where the only thing at stake is public money.

  12. tree_guy says:

    So, a cheaper outfit would not have made the mistakes? fibonicci

    Read more here: http://blog.thenewstribune.com/letters/2012/03/16/plas-serve-the-public/#comments#storylink=cpy

    Think you’ve missed the point. A cheaper outfit would have made the same mistake but it wouldn’t have cost the taxpayer so much. I’d rather pay for a $350K mistake than a $700K mistake

  13. LornaDoone says:

    “I say if we are going to hire fallible human beings then lets hire the least expensive fallible human beings.”

    Minimum wage police and fire departments!!! Let’s lower those costs!

    Is the cheapest brain surgeon the one you’re going to choose? How about the cheapest lawyer?

    Why buy a Cadillac, when a Yugo gets you down the road and when it falls apart there is another new one waiting on the side of the road right were you need it, and cheap, too?

    “There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man’s lawful prey.” – John Ruskin

  14. We got what we paid for. We have a functioning interchange. Yes there was a mistake, one made by an upper level engineer. Yes we paid for that mistake. Yes it would have cost less if the wages were lower. It would have cost us nothing if wages were zero. Do your minimum wage employees get blamed for your mistakes, treeguy?

  15. tree_guy says:

    Is the cheapest brain surgeon the one you’re going to choose?”

    Read more here: http://blog.thenewstribune.com/letters/2012/03/16/plas-serve-the-public/#comments#storylink=cpy

    It’s quite a stretch to compare the skills of a flagger or a common construction worker with those of a brain surgeon. Pretty sure a flagger making $12 per hour will perform the job just as adequately as a flagger making $25 per hour.

    Regarding your Cadillac vs. Yugo hypothetical, I might decide I want to pay more for the cadillac…that would be MY decision. The taxpayer isn’t given the opportunity on government construction projects to use anything but the prevailing wage priced workers. What if the public would prefer lower paid workers and less expensively priced projects?

  16. tree_guy says:

    “We got what we paid for. We have a functioning interchange.”bandito

    Read more here: http://blog.thenewstribune.com/letters/2012/03/16/plas-serve-the-public/#comment-209363#storylink=cpy

    We paid $700K for an exit ramp that had to be demolished. How did we get what we paid for? That doesn’t even make sense.

  17. Get over it guy. A mistake was made and corrected. Sometimes that happens. Nobody’s perfect, not even you. If you pay less you get less, IE more mistakes, sloppy workmanship because the more qualified people will go where the money is. Don’t expect Cadillac quality for Yugo prices. And yes even Cadillac makes mistakes, and the cost of fixing those mistakes is factored into the price of every vehicle they make. So, each and every one of us paid a little to have that exit ramp corrected. It’s the price of doing business. Then we move on.

    And sometimes a $25 flagger is worth more than a $12 flagger, unless you think that flagging is so easy that even a treeguy can do it. An inexperienced flagger can get people killed.

  18. tree_guy says:

    Bandito, you’re thoroughly impressed with your POV that the highest paid workers and highest costing projects are the best.

    May we assume that in your daily life you always find the highest paid alternatives? Do you always shop at Metropolitan Market, do you always dine out at The Pacific Grill, do you always choose the highest price bid on home repair work, drive Lamborghini automobiles, live in an expensive waterfront home, and sleep in 600 thread count egyptian cotton sheets? After all, you get what you pay for. Why not have the best?

  19. Agreed, you get what you pay for. The lowest paid workers don’t think very much of themselves. Why should anyone else?

  20. blakeshouse says:

    This crap is no better than the Maddoff scheme. Of course in this soviet style gulag we NEED these high pd unions, they keep the status quo in Olympia

  21. LornaDoone says:

    “The taxpayer isn’t given the opportunity on government construction projects to use anything but the prevailing wage priced workers.”

    If everything had to be decided by a popular vote, nothing would get done. This is why we elect state officials, who make laws and manage the state.

    I note you don’t blame the engineers/architechs for any of the problems. They must not be union workers.

    You also avoided the challenge about unionized police and fire members.

  22. LornaDoone says:

    “And sometimes a $25 flagger is worth more than a $12 flagger”

    What is the “bill back” on the flagger cost, from the constractor? Is this labor sold at cost? No way.

    If we are complaining about prices, how about reselling the labor at cost, and materials at 20% markup and one flat fee for the contractor/owner, so that we see how much he is paying himself?

    Watch “free market” come soaring to the conversation.

  23. Scottc51 says:

    For those who believe that “you get what you pay for” I have a car for sale. Was going to sell it for $2,000, but for you: $4,000.

  24. tree_guy says:

    Minimum wage police and fire departments!!! Let’s lower those costs!Lornadoone

    Read more here: http://blog.thenewstribune.com/letters/2012/03/16/plas-serve-the-public/#comments#storylink=cpy

    Look Lorna, we could pay government employees of all sort, including police and fire, at lower rates without going all the way down to minimum wage. When people pass the test for fire or police worker have them write down on a piece of paper how much they will work for. Then hire the applicants who write down the smallest amount. The public deserves to have cost effective employment policies.

  25. commoncents says:

    tree_guy – your approach focuses solely on cost rather than effective portion of cost-effectiveness. Why bother with the tests? I’m sure there are plenty of folks who aren’t truly qualified who would be willing to work for cheap?

  26. your approach focuses solely on cost rather than effective portion of cost-effectiveness. commoncents

    Read more here: http://blog.thenewstribune.com/letters/2012/03/16/plas-serve-the-public/#comments#storylink=cpy

    Please re read my posting. I wrote that the lowest cost applicants who had PASSED THE TESTS would be hired. I didn’t include unqualified applicants in my illustration. Perhaps some instruction in reading comprehension would be beneficial to you.

  27. commoncents says:

    Do you have any idea how many people pass those tests? Personally I’d rather have those at the top of the list rather than the bottom. I know, I know..you can draw a line at the top quartile. But why bother? The guy at 26% will be cheaper still….and hey he still passed the test.

    Perhaps just using a modicum of thought might help you.

  28. Let the bidding process begin. But, don’t forget, you cannot bid less than minimum wage. Yet!

  29. tree_guy says:

    Personally I’d rather have those at the top of the list rather than the bottom.” commoncents

    Read more here: http://blog.thenewstribune.com/letters/2012/03/16/plas-serve-the-public/#comments#storylink=cpy

    I think you are really just trying to be obtuse. My previous hypothetical assumes that ALL the candidates for the position are HIGHLY qualified. For purposes of the discussion we can assume they are all the same. It sounds like you want to pay the people with the highest acceptable scores the most and the people with the lowest acceptable scores the least. If I’m going to hire a person to put a new roof on my house and I interview two roofers and they are both equally qualified, I’m going to hire the one who bids $10K and not hire the one who bids $12K. Bet you would too!

  30. commoncents says:

    Actually you said that you would take the scores of all those who passed. You are aware that 70% is considered passing for most of these exams aren’t you? You said nothing about segregating out those who were highly qualified from those who weren’t.

    As for your next hypothetical…if they are equally qualified sure you will take the one who bids 10k. But, what are you to do if you rate 2 as highly qualified and they bid 20k because they know full well that they are the best in the business and everyone else missed that highly qualified status. Do you bite the bullet and take that 20k bid? or do you look maybe a little further down the list at the next tier? At what point do you draw the line? How far down do you go? How far are you willing to compromise?

  31. tree_guy says:

    When people pass the test for fire or police worker have them write down on a piece of paper how much they will work for.”

    Read more here: http://blog.thenewstribune.com/letters/2012/03/16/plas-serve-the-public/#comments#storylink=cpy

    That’s my EXACT quote. All the people writing down their target salary are appropriately qualified. There’s no such thing in my hypothetical such as highly qualified or moderately qualified. You’ve just come up with goofy objection in order to avoid defending your own point of view.

    Would you hire the roofer with the highest price or the roofer with the lowest price? Both are appropriately qualified to replace your roof. Please answer commoncents.

  32. commoncents says:

    i did answer. I said if they were exact same qualifications I would hire the lower paid person. However, it’s when you try to apply your hypothetical thought to the real world that it doesn’t hold water. In the civil service tests that you want to apply this criteria to, the applicants are not of equal qualifications and there are far more than 2. I’m asking you how far down the list do you want to go? How much are you willing to compromise on public safety in order to save a few bucks? If you take the top 2 and ask who will work cheaper…why not go down to 3? and ask what he will work for? He’s just as qualified..heh passed the test. Why not go down to #200? He passed, too. Of course he barely met the minimum but he passed.

    That’s why I said you are missing out on the effectiveness…#200 on the list is clearly not the same level of qualifications as #1 yet are you willing to go down to his level to save 6k? Again, this is based on the fact that both people passed the test which determines qualification…ie they both qualified to be hired.

  33. tree_guy says:

    commoncents, you’re assuming that the highest scoring applicants are going to ask for the highest pay and the lowest scoring applicants are going to ask for the lowest pay. Yet there’s no reason to make any such assumption. I would take all the applications for qualified officers, then rank them by requested pay and let the chips fall where they may. You might get some lower rated applicants, but you might also get top rated applicants at very attractive prices. For what it’s worth we probably have people right now who only scored 70% who are employed by the government at very high pay rates. That hardly validates your POV.

  34. commoncents says:

    Of course that’s what I assume. Because that’s the how the free market works. Those that are better can command more money. If not from one place who refuses to value it than from another place that does. That’s the one benefit about the employer setting compensation and benchmarking against other like entities. It helps you balance your quality and productivity against your efficiency.

    And, more importantly, it prevents the inmates from running the asylum and ultimately running up your costs. As an employee I would love to work at a place where I set the compensation…and yes, I would get together with the others and set the bar. Perhaps I, personally, might set mine a bit higher than the others and lose out but you can bet that simply having the conversation would have raised the bar for the position significantly higher than the employer would have otherwise paid.

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