Union backers during a public hearing Tuesday said the latest example of the GOP’s attack on workers is a bill that bans the state and local governments from requiring project labor agreements on construction bids.

But Republicans and non-union firms countered that AB 24 encourages competition in the bidding process and still lets local governments use those agreements if they’d like. The agreements, called PLAs, are common in the construction industry and lay out standards such as wages, benefits and safety guidelines.

The bill’s co-author, Rep. Rob Hutton, said at an Assembly Committee on Labor public hearing that non-union firms are discouraged from applying for government construction projects if they require companies to enter PLAs. It’s a “free market issue,” he said.

“The legislation isn’t an indictment of PLAs,” Hutton said. “It is simply an indictment on PLAs being required as a condition for the bid process.”

But Dems and union backers said PLAs ensure projects are high-quality and that they’re done on time and on budget, noting the agreements last throughout the entirety of the project and therefore help prevent work stoppages.

Stephanie Bloomingdale, the secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, ticked off a list of projects that have had PLAs, including the Hoover Dam and Disney World or at the local level, the new Milwaukee Bucks arena. PLAs, she said, have “built America.”

“When you have something that works and works well, then you have to ask yourself, why change that?” she said.

Specifically, the bill says the state or local governments can’t consider when awarding a project whether a company bidding on it agreed to enter an agreement with a labor union. The bill also would prohibit the government’s’ requests for proposals, or RFPs, from including provisions requiring bidders to enter such agreements. And those RFPs would also not be able to require bidders to enter into an agreement that requires them or their employees to join labor unions or pay dues or fees to unions.

Joe Daniels, the president and CEO of Madison-based Daniels Construction, said he’d like to “have the opportunity” to bid on all projects, without having employees pay into things like a union trust fund that will never benefit them.

“I’m looking out for my employees,” Daniels said.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said the county uses PLAs “judiciously” and that they’re helpful in complicated projects.

Before he entered that post in 2011, he said, the county didn’t use a PLA on a nursing home and it’s “still cleaning up the mess” and paying for fixes because the project wasn’t done right. On a more recent medical examiner’s facility, he said, the county decided to use a PLA because the project was so complex.

“We’re not saying everyone should be forced to use a PLA,” Parisi said. “We’re saying, ‘Let’s take the middle ground and allow your local officials to use those when they deem it necessary.'”

Dems on the committee took a sharper tone, with Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, saying it’s the latest example of Republicans starting off the legislative session “looking at ways to reduce people’s benefits.”

Rep. Cory Mason, meanwhile, said PLAs ensure workers get good wages and are safe on the job. He said local governments should have the option to require them.

“Let’s be honest,” the Racine Dem said. “This is about making sure that you can pay people less.”

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