PROVIDENCE, RI — The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently announced its decision to uphold a lower court decision, which struck down a union-only project labor agreement (PLA) on a $73 million University of Rhode Island project.

Relying on rulings in New York and Massachusetts, the court said, “It is our opinion that before adopting a PLA, an awarding authority must carry out an objective, reasoned evaluation that has incorporated reviewable criteria in order to fulfill the goals and purposes of the state purchases act, given a PLA’s anti-competitive effect. … An objective, reasoned evaluation is necessary to dispel any suggestion of caprice or arbitrariness in imposing this type of contract.”

In this case, the court said, “The fact that some bid packages were withdrawn precipitously, then reissued with the PLA addendum, supported the finding that the procedure was arbitrary and capricious, and any alleged threats of labor unrest alone did not provide a sufficient basis on which to issue a PLA.”

“This is a true victory for ABC’s Rhode Island Chapter,” said Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) president and ceo Kirk Pickerel. “The court rightly agreed with ABC’s Rhode Island Chapter that union-only PLAs discourage merit shop contractors from bidding on projects, and thereby discriminate against the majority of construction firms that choose to work merit shop.”

Rhode Island Chapter leaders and some of its member firms argued that that the use of a PLA would effectively exclude the firms from bidding on the project. This, in turn, would have resulted “in greatly inflated costs for the taxpayers of the State of Rhode Island by significantly reducing competition for work on the project,” according to the association.

ABC’s Construction Legal Rights Foundation helped fund the case.

Publication date: 01/28/2002