Safety Concerns

Proponents of anti-competitive and costly project labor agreements (PLAs) sometimes claim that PLAs guarantee a safer jobsite for construction workers. Of course, there is no private or government evidence to support the myth that an all-union workforce, and/or a workforce operating under a PLA, will have a higher rate of compliance with federal safety and health laws and regulations than jobsites not subject to a PLA.

Connecticut’s entire construction industry mourned the 2010 tragedy at the Kleen Energy facility in Middletown, a project that was subject to a PLA and was built using only union labor. In August 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined three construction companies and 14 subcontractors a total of $16.6 million – the second largest OSHA fine ever – following a gas explosion during the construction of the Kleen Energy facility. The Feb. 7, 2010 explosion killed six workers and injured 30 people. The Kleen Energy project had a PLA and the impacted workers, all union, came from as far away as Kentucky, Canada and California. Other Connecticut accidents on recent union-only projects include a fatality on the Science Center worksite, which was subject to a PLA, and a fatality at Quinnipiac University.

These are a few examples and grim reminders that construction is a hazardous industry, regardless of whether construction employees belong to a union or work on a PLA jobsite. Not all PLA projects have experienced safety problems and both union and nonunion contractors participate in impressive safety programs.

PLAs will not eliminate safety issues on construction jobsites. Public officials, contractors and employees have a responsibility to do all they can to avoid tragedies through appropriate training, safety and management practices. Construction stakeholders should not be lulled into a false sense of security and fooled by myths that PLAs guarantee workplace safety: lives may depend on it.

Links to other PLA Safety Issues