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CO Building Trades Rep Slams Aurora Veterans Affairs Project as “Criminal,” in Dire Need of a PLA

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Recently, we shed light on the cost overruns and other failures of the Aurora, Colorado Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital construction. The problems relate to an endemic refusal by the VA to use Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), despite their many advantages and guarantees, including a mandate for hiring military veterans into the construction trades.

Now, with the Aurora project’s cost reportedly clearing the $1 billion “milestone,” Alden N. Hall, business manager of the Colorado State Building and Construction Trades Council, has weighed in with an op-ed in the Denver Post. We have reprinted the piece in its entirety below.


The new Veterans Affairs hospital in Aurora is nearly $200 million over its construction budget because policymakers use lowest bid contracting instead of project labor agreements (PLAs). This should be a cautionary tale for those who are in a “race to the bottom.”

The problems with the VA hospital in Aurora are similar to other VA projects around the country, such as Texas, Las Vegas, New Orleans and Orlando, where the average cost overrun was $366 million.

In Florida, not only is the $600 million project way over budget and behind schedule, but federal and state agencies also have twice raided the site because of the rampant use of undocumented workers. A contractor who was working on that site is being investigated for attempting to shield undocumented workers from detection by hiding some of them in heating and ventilation ducts.

From the outset, the Veterans Administration made a conscious decision not to use PLAs for any of these projects, even though they are used in companies such as Toyota, Wal-Mart, Chevron and many others because they have been proven to ensure greater efficiencies for large complex projects.

PLAs can help projects meet deadlines by guaranteeing a steady supply of highly trained and highly productive local labor, and by reconciling the various work routines of the many trades. It’s a project management tool that enables construction owners to manage their jobs and successfully obtain “on time, on budget” results.

A business model with PLAs offers increased jobsite efficiencies through a steady supply of the safest, most highly trained and productive skilled craft workforce. Numerous academic studies have shown that paying higher costs for safer, better trained and more productive workers actually reduces overall costs for public agencies.

Furthermore, the PLA model promotes career training opportunities for local workers — particularly women, minorities and military veterans.

PLAs are being increasingly utilized by the profit-oriented and cost-conscious private sector because they work. In fact, Toyota has built all of its North American manufacturing facilities under PLAs, and they have reported that their construction costs are one-third less than their competitors who eschew the use of PLAs.

The “race to the bottom” business model adheres to the belief that contracts ought to be awarded based primarily upon a contractor’s ability to assemble a low-skill, low-wage, easily exploitable workforce.

This model reveals systematic use of undocumented workers, and the rampant practice of misclassifying workers as “independent contractors” in order to avoid the payment of benefits and taxes. This is not free market competition. It’s criminal.

And we all pay the bill.

We appreciate Sen. Michael Bennet, Sen. Mark Udall and Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who had the foresight to advocate that the Veteran’s Administration use PLAs prior to the start of the Aurora project. They had concerns about delays and cost overruns then, and without a PLA their concerns have become reality. Other elected officials who do not support PLAs are further encouraging a “race to the bottom.”

Just look at Aurora.


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