A shortage of bids on the New York State Fairgrounds pedestrian bridge project will leave New Yorkers paying more, but getting less. When plans for the project were released with an accompanying project labor agreement (PLA), the playing field narrowed from 20 companies interested in the project to just two submitting bids, with the lowest bid coming in well in excess of $1 million over engineering estimates. Why the drastic decrease in competition and increase in costs? The answer can be found in three simple letters: PLA.
A PLA is a pre-hire agreement with labor organizations requiring that the workforce comes from the local union hiring hall. However, unions only account for 21 percent of the construction workforce across New York. What a PLA does is effectively bar the majority of local contractors and their workers from bidding and winning work that their own tax dollars fund. These agreements are put into place to virtually eliminate competition for the unions, ensuring their contractors win the work, and decrease the number of bids on a project, driving up costs for taxpayers. It’s simple math; more competition leads to lower bids. In this case, the lack of bids will cost taxpayers exponentially. As with previous fairgrounds projects, major concessions to the original plans had to be made due to inflated costs. With a $1.3 million gap between the estimated project costs and the lowest bid, something has to give, so scaling back is the only solution.
As we saw at the Public Service Leadership Academy at Fowler, the athletic stadium project was delayed again last year when the sole bid submitted by a union company to do site work came in $5 million over budget. Other area schools have built similar athletic complexes with multiple companies bidding and the work completed for millions of dollars less, all by doing away with the use of a PLA. However, since the state has agreed to reimburse the city for most of the Fowler stadium project’s cost, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has publicly pledged his undying support to unions, a PLA was included in this contract, leaving the taxpayers to foot the bill for the grossly inflated costs.
Those who favor organized labor will argue that PLAs are a cost-saving measure. That’s simply false. They will point to pre-construction studies that use an antiquated labor model created to demonstrate that the PLA will save money. However, the outdated model fails to accommodate for the massive changes in the construction industry over the past few decades. While flawed PLA studies are conducted in advance of a project to identify “alleged” savings, nothing is ever done after to determine if the savings were realized. Why? Labor savings never materialize—and their proponents don’t want you to know that. PLAs are put in place to guarantee work for the same unions that make substantial donations to politicians that insist project labor agreements be used in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle. The project at the fairgrounds is yet another pay-to-play scheme. Unions donate to Cuomo’s campaign and the governor kicks jobs their way, in an effort to fuel their underfunded pensions.
This pedestrian bridge is the gateway to welcome visitors from around the globe to New York state’s fairgrounds — a place where we proudly showcase all that the Empire State has to offer. We should be satisfied to see our tax dollars make this state even greater, but that’s not what’s happening. Instead, we are crushing New Yorkers by making the state more expensive to live and do business in. It’s time for the governor to choose his constituents over union donors. If he was a true champion for the people of New York, he would immediately remove this PLA and shield taxpayers from another costly burden. However, much like the pedestrian bridge, on the road to re-election Cuomo will only be considering the best interests of a handful of New Yorkers, and they all hold a union card.