In what was a noisy legislative week in Springfield before adjournment a little over a week ago, the General Assembly quietly passed a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) on Leaking Underground Storage Tanks (LUST), mandating that underground storage jobs can only be performed by union labor.
It passed the House 68-47-1 May 30 and passed the Senate 38-17-4 May 31.
The LUST mandate amends part of a previous bill, the Project Labor Agreement Act. Almost two years earlier, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law the original Project Labor Agreement Act, which stated “The State of Illinois has a compelling interest in awarding public works contracts so as to ensure the highest standards of quality and efficiency at the lowest responsible cost.”
Now, the Project Labor Agreement Act is amended to specify “that the term ‘public works project’ includes…any corrective action performed pursuant to Title XVI of the Environmental Protection Act for which payment from the Underground Storage Tank Fund is requested.”
Rep. Jeanne Ives (R), who voted against the bill, said she did so because she does not believe PLAs improve projects.
“Project Labor Agreements are supposed to ensure projects get done on time and on budget,” Ives said. “My research indicates that this is not always the case.”
Ives pointed to a 2010 PLA project on the Illinois State Tollways that resulted in union construction workers striking as proof of a project slowing down.
There is more evidence than just that to support Ives claim, though. Multiple studies by Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute earlier this decade found PLAs to be counterproductive and actually raise construction costs, including one 2006 study that found PLAs to raise New York construction costs 20 percent during an eight year period.
Another study by The National University System Institute for Policy Research found California construction costs to increase 13-15 percent from 1996-2008.
On the national level, President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2009 that urged federal agencies to consider the use of PLAs on federal construction projects, revoking previous executive orders from President George W. Bush that government mandated PLAs on federally funded construction projects.
According to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency website, Illinois generates money for the Underground Storage Tank Fund through a $0.003 per-gallon motor fuel tax and an $0.008 per-gallon environmental impact fee, both of which are due to expire in 2025.
Ives noted that because taxes are used for the fund, the EPA could say the works are then subject to a PLA.