Contractors and subcontractors were shocked by Summit's decision to use a PLA, says Matthew Marks, CEO of Associated General Contractors of Maine. "We were all kind of caught off guard," he says. "The PLA will limit the scope of people who can actually bid on the project."
This is a questionable — if not downright false — claim. While the PLA may limit the number of contractors and subcontractors who choose to bid on the project, it doesn't outright exclude anyone — regardless of their union status — from doing so. Companies who sign onto the PLA do so for this project only and are free to remain "open shop" elsewhere. (The bidding process is currently on-going; Summit expects to announce its awards very soon.)
Both LePage and the contractors organizations have reiterated one salient, but perhaps specious, statistic: "Because 98.6 percent of Maine's construction workforce chooses not to belong to a union," LePage said, "the PLA would discriminate against almost all of Maine's construction workers and would most certainly require out-of-state workers to do the work."
Not true, LIUNA counters, taking issue specifically with LePage's language. While it is accurate that Maine has low union membership in the construction industry, that doesn't necessarily indicate preference.
"How can they speak for 90 percent of the workforce in Maine?" Tucker wonders. "[The workers] have never been asked!" It's true, he admits, that much of the work performed in Maine today is non-union, "but that doesn't reflect desire." Many workers don't even know that the power to organize is in their hands, he says.
In addition, Tucker points out that the Summit PLA includes a clause guaranteeing that at least 50 percent of pipeline workers are from Maine, and the laborer's union uses member dues to provide free training for prospective workers so that they are properly qualified for the work to come. (Because pipeline construction requires certain skills — skills that out-of-staters may possess in spades — it's important to make sure Maine workers measure up in terms of performance and skill-level so that hiring stays local.)
Opposition to PLAs is based on one thing, union reps say: Greed. "They're against unions because right now their workers are at-will employees," Tucker says. "When workers have a voice, employers lose control."
WORK IT OUT
On a hazy spring afternoon, a 22-year-old roofer named Jacob walks into the Local 327 union hall in Augusta and starts filling out paperwork. He's a roofer looking for a better job and better pay, he says, and a friend turned him on to the pipeline project. The prospect of finding steady, safe, sustainable employment is enticing.
Tucker says to him what he says to all Maine workers: "You're all done working for nothing." In this case, "nothing" was low wages (Jacob said he earns about $12 an hour as a roofer, with no bennys or health insurance), and no job security.
That's the hope, at least. Buoyed by the Summit success, labor organizers are looking toward the future, eager to acquire new members and to convince other big-money builders that hiring union workers, paying solid wages, and observing standard safety protocols amounts to smart business practice. The "organizing" arm of organized labor seems to be more energized than in the recent past.