Boots & Sabers

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0650, 20 Jun 19

Reminder: Government Can’t Reward Huge Contracts Based on Unionization

Still the law

Madison City Council members recently had to be reminded — again — that, no matter how much they may want to, they cannot award building projects based on whether the bidder plans to hire a union shop. 

In a memo sent last week, Assistant City Attorney Kevin Ramakrishna informed Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and the council’s Finance Committee that Wisconsin has a law on Project Labor Agreements. PLAs are government public construction projects awarded exclusively to unionized firms.

As of 2017, PLAs are illegal under state law, Ramakrishna pointed out. 

“The City Attorney’s Office issued a Memorandum on April 17, 2018 discussing the impact of the legislation,” the attorney wrote. Apparently some city council members in this uber-liberal city didn’t get the memo — figuratively, that is.  

“The advice therein continues to be accurate, and, as related to the Judge Doyle project, the City cannot require a union workforce, set labor rates, or enforce similar provisions through best value contracting,” Ramakrishna advised. 

Among the many provisions of a reform law that levels the playing field for contractors and better protects taxpayers is a clear prohibition on requiring a project bidder to “enter into or adhere to an agreement with a labor organization.” 

In other words, local and state governments can no longer do what they had long done: grant construction contracts exclusively to contractors that employ union workers — or make union membership a condition of employment. 


0650, 20 June 2019


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