Union labor will build Saints ballpark

The City of St. Paul is promising to pay union wages to the workers who build the new Lowertown Ballpark. In exchange, the unions will agree not to delay the project with a strike.

The city council last night agreed to negotiate a project labor agreement (PLA), which will serve as a master contract with the unions representing the various building trades. Such agreements are required to include a no-strike clause.

"A work stoppage due to a strike would be both costly and time-consuming, and time equals cost," said consultant Paul Johnson, who is helping St. Paul with the ballpark project.

Project labor agreements have become commonplace for publicly funded developments in the Twin Cities. The Twins ballpark was subject to one and the Vikings stadium will be, too. A 2009 city council resolution requires St. Paul to consider such a contract when it spends more than $250,000 on a building project.

But critics say the agreements constitute a giveaway to labor interests.

"It makes no economic sense," said Bob Heise, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Minnesota and North Dakota. "You want a large bidders pool. The larger the bidder pool, the better the price, the more competition. If you put a PLA on there, you're only going to have one kind of contractor bidding on the work, union contractors."

St. Paul can't require workers to join a union, but the PLA will require them to "pay appropriate representation fees" to the unions. That makes it nearly impossible for non-union contractors to compete, Heise said.

There are clear political overtones to the PLA debate. In 2005, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty banned them for state projects. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton reversed that order.

MPR News is Reader Funded

Before you keep reading, take a moment to donate to MPR News. Your financial support ensures that factual and trusted news and context remain accessible to all.