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The Construction Institute
P.O. Box 220808
Boston, MA 02122

tel: 617.436.4159
fax: 617.436.4163
email: info@builtbest.org

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is TCI?

 A. The Construction Institute (TCI), formerly the Labor-Management Construction Safety Alliance, is a nonprofit labor-management organization which serves as the proactive research and educational resource for the unionized sector of the Massachusetts construction industry. TCI works to enhance the union construction climate in Massachusetts by demonstrating and promoting the superior value and benefits of union construction to the industry, its customers, and the public. 
Q. What are the benefits of hiring union contractors and trades people?
A. Qualified, skilled union workers provide lower overall costs through quality work and high productivity. Contractors can specify skills, request workers by name and determine qualifications.
Q. Can union contractors compete against non-union contractors?
A. Union contractors can and do effectively compete every day, across the nation. Union trades people are well trained to excel in quality workmanship and productivity to remain competitive on price. Education is ongoing to keep up with the latest technologies and standards in the industry.
Q. What is the benefit of using union contractors and trades people to the community?
A. We eliminate the burdens of healthcare and social costs on our customers and the community because union workers receive high-quality, affordable health coverage and retirement benefits.

Union craftspeople and contractors donate money, labor and materials to hundreds of charitiable causes in the communities in which they live and work. From digging dugouts for Little League baseball; to constructing schools, teen centers, and food banks; and building homes for Habitat for Humanity and returning veterans, not to mention raising millions for college scholarships, Boys and Girls Clubs, the Scouts and medical research, the union construction sector is ready to extend a helping hand. Although many of these charitable contributions are made quietly, they are enjoyed by our communities and residents year after year.

Union pension plans additionally invest millions of dollars in real estate development projects in Massachusetts that not only grow their pension funds, but generate employment opportunities in construction, and have a positive economic impact in their local communities. And, union joint apprenticeship training centers have created a number of partnerships with community groups to provide training and job opportunities in construction for disadvantaged youth.

Q. What is responsible bidding and what does it have to do with union construction?

A. Responsible bidding is the foundation upon which union construction works. It’s a commitment to the community, customers and the future of the construction industry by bidding construction projects based on a variety of criteria that encourages greater community growth. Responsible bidding takes into account issues that affect the long-term health of the construction project and community -- issues such as a contractor’s past performance, safety record, quality standards, diversity and training.

Q. What is a prevailing wage?

A. Federal and Massachusetts laws require all employers engaged in the performance of public construction projects to pay, at a minimum, wages and benefits that prevail in or near the geographic area where the project is located. Prevailing wage laws are based on the idea that the government should not use taxpauer's money to undercut local area employment conditions. 

Over the past decade, many economists and other experts have published articles, studies and reports demonstrating the important benefits of prevailing wage laws. Several of these publications have been compiled on our website under Resources.

Federal Prevailing Wage Law

The federal Davis Bacon and Related Acts require that all contractors and subcontractors performing on federal contracts (and contractors or subcontractors performing on federally assisted contracts under the related Acts) in excess of $2,000 pay their laborers and mechanics not less than the prevailing wage rates and fringe benefits, as determined by the Secretary of Labor, for corresponding classes of laborers and mechanics employed on similar projects in the area.

Apprentices and trainees may be employed at less than predetermined rates. Apprentices must be employed pursuant to an apprenticeship program registered with the Department of Labor or with a state apprenticeship agency recognized by the Department. Trainees must be employed pursuant to a training program certified by the Department.

Contractors and subcontractors on prime contracts in excess of $100,000 are also required, pursuant to the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act, to pay employees one and one-half times their basic rates of pay for all hours over 40 worked on covered contract work in a workweek.

Massachusetts Prevailing Wage Law

The Massachusetts prevailing wage laws require that employees on public works projects, except those who perform strictly supervisory functions, be paid a minimum hourly rate set by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Occupational Safety (DOS). The prevailing wage rate applies to all public construction contracts, regardless of the estimated price of the project.

The Attorney General's Office enforces these laws. DOS issues the rates for each project and determines which rates apply to which classifications. Prevailing wage rates are set by DOS based upon the rates established in local collective bargaining contracts. DOS also determines whether the prevailing wage applies to a given public works project.

Apprentices can be used if the contractor is participating in an apprenticeship program which is approved by the Division of Apprenticeship Training, and the apprentices are registered with the Division. The maximum ratio of apprentices to journeymen is supplied by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development when the prevailing wage rates are issues.

An employer may deduct any contribution made by the employer on an employee's behalf to a bona fide pension, health and welfare or supplemental unemployment fund. An employer may contribute to such plans and deduct for the contribution even if the employee does not wish to participate.

All contractors and sub-contractors are required to file certified payroll records directly with the awarding authority on a weekly basis. These records must contain accurate information detailing each employee's name, address, occupational classification, hours worked and wages paid. The records must be certified and signed by the contractor or agent under the pains and penalties of perjury. All contractors and sub-contractors must submit the records directly to the awarding authority every week.

The Massachusetts law requires that contractors post prevailing wage rates in a conspicuous place on all public construction sites. Prevailing wage rates are set for each individual project, and may vary. To obtain a copy of the rates for a particular job, contact the awarding authority and ask for the prevailing wage rate schedule.

Q. What is a Project Labor Agreement (PLA)?

A. A project labor agreement (PLA) is a pre-hire construction labor agreement between an owner and a building trades council, representing all the construction craft unions in a given geographical area. PLAs have been utilized as an efficient construction tool in private industry for many years, and they have been used in federal sector construction as far back as the 1930s.

PLAs establish uniform terms and conditions for all construction craft employees, as well as all construction contractors on a specific construction project. A typical PLA will establish uniform standards for working hours, overtime, holidays, grievance procedures, drug testing, jurisdictional dispute resolution, etc. These are areas that generally differ from craft to craft, and from contractor to contractor on a typical construction project.

PLAs are particularly useful on large, complex construction projects that require a large number of skilled craft workers, and that are expected to last a long period of time, and on projects that are particularly time-sensitive.

A PLA is not a “union shop” agreement. Bidding is open to all contractors, and employment is open to all construction craft workers.

In the most comprehensive study of PLAs to date, researchers found no evidence that the agreements decrease the number of bidders or change the costs of construction projects, two central criticisms raised by PLA opponents. Indeed, the study concluded that "PLAs are valuable tools for the construction industry because they can be used to create conditions needed for a superior construction project."

PLAs by definition are designed to give maximum benefit to all parties involved. Workers are properly trained and earn a respectable wage and benefits; employers have immediate access to a skilled workforce; and owners can take comfort in knowing that their projects will be completed by highly trained personnel and experienced management, safely, on time, and within budget.

Taxpayers are also beneficiaries on PLAs for public projects, inasmuch as they will gain a public improvement project that is much more likely to be completed on time, within budget and with quality construction. 

Additional information on the subject of Project Labor Agreements can be found on our website under Resources.