When a public school district wants to build a new school, should it assign the project to the most qualified bidder or the most politically connected one? That’s the question at the forefront of Minnesota ABC v. Minneapolis Public Schools, a civil rights challenge PLF filed this Tuesday.
PLF represents merit-shop contractors, who do terrific work for Minnesotans without associating with a union. One is Matt Bergmann, the CEO of one of the fastest growing companies in Minnesota. Mr. Bergmann’s company has worked on numerous projects across Minnesota, but it is shut out of business in the Minneapolis School District — even if there were no question that it would be the best company for the job.
Roughly two dozen ongoing projects in the Minneapolis Public School District have incorporated terms from a 2004 project labor agreement, an agreement negotiated between the school district and the union. Mr. Bergmann would have to sign this agreement and agree to all of its terms before he would be allowed to work on any of the projects in the school district.
Yet doing so would convert Mr. Bergmann’s business into a de facto union business. The agreement requires Mr. Bergmann to hire workers from the union — at the expense of his workers, and forces him to contribute to benefits funds that are routinely used for activities to which he is opposed.
This is unconstitutional. Just as public school districts may not force contractors to agree to the political platform of the Republican or Democratic Party, they may not force contractors to agree to union-mandated terms before they’re allowed to work on a public project.
The First Amendment prohibits viewpoint discrimination, and everyone should be grateful it does. Political power, of course, varies by locality. Republicans might be favored in one place; Democrats in another. Unions might be favored in one place; disfavored in another. Opportunities in America should not hinge on the varying political tides. They should be available for all — regardless of whether they are politically powerful or politically powerless.