Texas Republicans Take Aim at Union Agreements on Taxpayer-Funded Jobsites

Republican lawmakers in both the Texas House and Senate are advancing legislation that would take aim at certain collective bargaining agreements on taxpayer-funded jobsites around the state.

House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, and Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, and some others are working to require that the government stay neutral when it comes to “project labor agreements.”

Two bills, Senate Bill 452 and House Bill 648, are moving fairly quickly through the legislative process. The Senate version passed the full chamber this past week. The House version was passed by a committee.

As many readers know, a project labor agreement, or PLA, is a collective bargaining agreement put in place prior to the hiring of any contractors or workers for a high-rise building or some other type of construction. 

Labor leaders say the agreements protect workers regardless of which contractors are eventually hired. Business groups, however, argue the agreements are an infringement on Texas’ right to work state status. Of course, under Texas law no person can be required to join a labor union as a condition of employment no matter what job they hold.

“For the past two sessions, I have supported the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of Texas’ ‘Neutrality in State Government Contracting’ bill, which prevents government agencies from requiring (or preventing) the use of project labor agreements in construction when state funds are involved,” Chairman Cook said. 

In an interview with the Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas magazine called Merit Shop, Cook said “the legislation helps to prevent the spread of bad ideas that have made other states less competitive, unnecessarily increased the cost of construction and wasted taxpayer dollars.”

“With the change in the administration in Washington, I am hopeful the assault on business will be abated,” Cook said. “We can hold the line at the Capitol, but Texas businesses need to be vigilant on the local level since many local governments are not as conservative.”

Jon Fisher, President of the ABC of Texas, said project labor agreements create untenable situations on jobsites. “Since Texas is a Right to Work state, even though the workers could not be required to join the union, they would be under enormous pressure from union representatives to pay in,” Fisher said in testimony.

“In at least one case in Texas in the private sector, I was told that workers had to pay union dues before getting a card allowing entry into the work site, Fisher said.

“They didn’t have to join the union, but they did have to pay dues,” Fisher said. “Texas should not pass on this opportunity to protect itself from practices of states with higher unemployment and weaker economies,” he said.

The Texas AFL-CIO argues the legislation is unnecessary and will end up hurting workers.

“Preemptively banning Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) on state projects is a mistake by the Texas Legislature that will hurt taxpayers, construction workers, and contractors,” said Rick Levy, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Texas AFL-CIO.

“PLAs have been used across the country for generations to make sure projects are completed on time and on budget, while ensuring highly trained, local workers are on the job,” Levy said. “Even blatantly anti-union companies like Walmart have utilized PLAs because they are effective. It is a shame that this senate continues to take its ideology out on Texas residents.”


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