By Stephanie Sweet,
Special to the AFRO

As minority contractors seek viable opportunities to not only expand our individual footprints, but to also foster diversity throughout the entire construction industry, we often encounter a common misconception that project labor agreements (PLAs) are somehow bad for our businesses.

In fact, in opposing a PLA being implemented on the $1 billion dollar Prince George’s County Public Schools P3 school construction program, anti-worker parties often base their argument on this very fallacy – even as evidence points to a minority contractor’s chances to win important bids being stifled without the presence of a PLA.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, PLAs – otherwise known as Community Workforce Agreements – are effective mechanisms for controlling construction costs, ensuring efficient completion of projects, and establishing fair wages and benefits for all workers. PLAs also help ensure worker health and safety protections while providing a unique opportunity for workforce development.

What’s not to like?

Under a PLA, a contractor can bid on a project without fear of being underbid by unprincipled competitors that knowingly bend the rules and break the law – contractors failing to pay overtime or misclassifying employees as 1099 contractors, for example.

A PLA guaranteeing strong labor standards protects all parties involved in development – the contractor, the local construction workforce and the taxpayer. A contract that can be enforced by both unions and management, PLAs guarantee quality work, as they serve as an effective safeguard to ensure projects are delivered both on-time and on-budget.

When a PLA is in place, the rules are followed by all parties. It’s that simple.

What’s more, PLAs help assure local officials that all parties are protected. When a PLA is involved, Minority Business Enterprise – or MBE – participation goals related to a project are not merely met, but regularly exceeded.

Preparing a bid demands major resources. The process requires a construction company to pay estimators and spend valuable staff time preparing specs. That said, local companies like mine are far more likely to invest said resources if a County has already committed to using a framework that levels the playing field for all contractors.

Look at the District of Columbia – just a few miles from Prince George’s County – where minority contractors have been involved in the successful completion of projects covered by PLAs and supported by the unionized workforce of the Building Trades. The nation’s capital has much stricter local hiring and minority business requirements than Prince George’s County. Even so, the District’s PLA projects have a track record of meeting and often surpassing these goals.

Because a PLA was not utilized for phase one of the P3 program in Prince George’s County, allegations of wage theft, the misclassification of workers, and prevailing wage violations are rampant – with new cases continuing to come forward.

If local minority-owned businesses like mine are to compete for work on phase two of the P3 program in Prince George’s County, there is no time to waste in demanding a PLA.