Hiring union labor brings several benefits to a project, including safety, efficiency and reduced costs due to the training union workers receive. Union-trained laborers receive detailed, structured training that focuses on safety and efficiency, which can reduce construction overhead costs by reducing workman’s comp costs and insurance premiums. By hiring union labor, a project owner can rest easy knowing they are getting a safety focused team that will more often than not, bring the project in on time and within budgets.
Public Labor Agreement Op-Ed
As staff and patients moved into the newly created facilities at UNM Hospital, (UNMH) there was even more cause for celebration as the hospital project was brought in on budget, on time. On July 10, UNMH CEO Steve McKernan praised the trade unions who worked on the project at an event honoring their work. He noted that the project was completed in 930 days, essentially “on-time and on-budget.” In 2004, when the University of New Mexico Regents approved the use of the public works Project Labor Agreement (PLA) to expand the Hospital, there was concern that it would not work. But, almost three years later, the proof is in the pudding – with the successful completion of the hospital, the PLA proved to be an extremely effective way to manage and maintain schedules and budgets, particularly for this type of large, complex, publically-funded construction project that involved a multitude of contractors, subcontractors and workers with specialized skills. Jack B. Henderson Construction Company was proud to be part of this major construction project. Cooperative agreements with trade unions are not new. Major projects have been completed successfully in the state such as the Four Corners Power Plant and the SDI – Oro Grande project in Alamogordo. These agreements have proven that they save time and money and are a great service to the public.
When the Regents decided to use a PLA, they were looking for an effective means to complete the UNMH project fast, and at considerably less cost, than they had seen in the past with other UNM construction projects such as the Student Union Building. As the hospital is such an essential community resource, they could not have any construction or labor disputes adversely impacting the facility. Furthermore, because this was a major public project using taxpayer dollars, it was important that they ensured the money was well spent and that the university and the public received a facility that was well constructed. They needed a reliable supply of skilled workers and stable labor costs; and the PLA provided just that.
The PLA worked because it defined wages and set work rules for the project, so companies like mine knew the entire scope of the project from the start. It also benefited UNMH because they didn’t have to negotiate a separate labor agreement with each contractor and each building trade. In the event that there were issues, a process of conflict resolution was also set up to deal with job disputes. Because PLAs have a no-strike clause, UNMH had the peace of mind of knowing that walkouts and other job actions were virtually eliminated. And, given the shortage of skilled construction workers over the last decade, the PLA ensured there were enough qualified workers for the project. As with any project, the Pavilion Project was not without its challenges. We were challenged with hiring enough medical gas fitters to complete the project on time. In the future we will eliminate this challenge by putting the necessary number of craft professionals through the medical gas training program in time to meet the demand of the Project.
Not only did UNM, taxpayers and local construction companies have the opportunity to greatly benefit from this agreement, the workers also had the opportunity to be winners. Contrary to what some critics of PLAs said when this agreement was implemented, the Regents were not imposing an ideological litmus test on workers. The PLA did not exclude contractors, union or nonunion, from bidding on the project. In fact, nonunion contractors were the winning bidders on UNMH with a number of local subcontractors used for the project. Many quality jobs – jobs that provided a living wage, health insurance, retirement benefits and training – were created, a boost to the economy of the entire state. The safety record for the UNMH project was world class, and we all benefit when we send our craft workers home safe after each day’s work. The UNMH project had an aggressive schedule for a multi-story building, which made for a high-risk project in terms of worker safety. Our hats are off to all of the workers for taking safety as a value and taking care of each other throughout the life of the project.
Now, Albuquerque has a new, state-of-the-art expansion at UNMH that will serve our community and a well-trained workforce to attract economic development. I recommend that you take the time to tour the facility and experience for yourself the finest Children’s Hospital anywhere. We are proud of what has been created by all of the Contractors and their respective trades craft, and we think you will be too. UNMH is for our community to use and we could not be in finer hands at another facility anywhere in the world. After seeing the results, there should be no doubt that the PLA provided UNM and taxpayers with substantial benefits in terms of project planning and project delivery. I know that I am satisfied with this experience and look forward to bringing a PLA to the table for future large-scale projects.
Jack B. Henderson Construction Company, Inc.