With 75 buildings and 35,000 students, there’s plenty of construction work in the Minneapolis School District. But many hardworking Minnesotans never get a shot at a school project. In 2004, the district adopted a project labor agreement, or PLA, that favors politically powerful unions over nonunion contractors. This type of agreement forces firms bidding on government contracts to pay money to a union and hire workers from them to get the job. As a result, nonunion employees are punished for choosing not to join a union, taxpayer costs increase by millions, and the district doesn’t always get the most qualified and responsible low bidders. Matt Bergmann is an electrical contractor whose 110 nonunion employees are among those squeezed out of public school jobs. Matt’s taking the school district to federal court to upend the rigged bidding scheme and level the playing field for all Minnesota workers and taxpayers.
Matt Bergmann is proud of the progress his family-owned company, Laketown Electric, has made in recent years. Over the past seven years, the Minneapolis-area electrical contractor grew from 12 employees to 110, opened a second location, and offers training and profit-sharing bonuses, making it one of the fastest-growing companies in the Twin Cities.
Today, his talented, hardworking employees perform the electrical work on large commercial and government projects, from breweries and restaurants to courthouses and police stations. Matt takes particular pride in the work his employees do on schools—they just wrapped up a 130,000-square-foot charter school in St. Paul that was completely engineered, designed, and built by his firm.
With 75 buildings and 35,000 students, there’s plenty of construction work available in the Minneapolis School District. In fact, new building projects and repairs are among the district’s $66 million per year in contracted services. But many hardworking Minnesotans, including Matt’s, never get a shot at a public school project merely because they choose not to join a union.
In 2004, the district adopted a PLA that favors politically powerful unions over nonunion contractors. This type of pre-hire agreement, or PLA, forces firms bidding on government contracts to pay money to a union and hire union workers as a condition of getting the job. As a result, PLAs punish nonunion employees, raise taxpayer costs for school projects by millions of dollars, and the district doesn’t always get the most qualified and responsible low bidders.
PLAs also violate the free speech rights of both businesses and their workers by allowing important construction projects to go to politically powerful interest groups rather than the most qualified company to work on the project. Also, under the Supreme Court’s Janus decision, unions are free to engage in political activities, but they cannot force dissenters to contribute to their cause.
Joined by Minnesota Associated Builders and Contractors, Matt is challenging Minnesota Public Schools’ unfair, rigged bidding scheme in federal court to level the playing field for all Minnesota workers and taxpayers. Matt and the ABC eventually decided to dismiss the case without prejudice. They remain opposed to project labor agreements, and will continue to advocate against them.