In a critical rebuke of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey (AACCNJ) last week denounced the governor for signing into law a measure that Project Labor Agreements (PLA) be required on all public construction contract works that exceed $5 million.

In a stinging admonishment of the governor, the AACCNJ called the mandate by Murphy “ill conceived” and “only benefits politically connected union firms.” The criticism parallels similar complaints from the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). The national association represents more than 21,000 merit shop and construction industry-related firms in 69 chapters across the country—including many minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBE’s) in the metro area. In 2018, Murphy became the first governor of New Jersey to attend and headline the AACNJ annual Black History month gala celebration. He has headlined several AACCNJ events and supported some of the organization’s initiatives and community efforts.

In its simplest definition, PLA’s are bargaining agreements in the construction industry and require contractors to recognize unions as representatives of their employees on specific projects exceeding a $5 million benchmark. The new legislation makes it nearly impossible for contractors to bid on lucrative taxpayer-funded projects. For example, in 2019, about 18 percent of New Jersey’s private construction workforce was represented by a union. “The fact that Blacks receive about one percent of all public contracts is inconsequential to the administration; notwithstanding the 94 percent of their vote to elect this administration,” said John Harmon, President, and CEO of the AACCNJ. “This would have been the perfect time for this administration to demonstrate their support for the national call for equity.” Harmon added that minority-owned construction-related businesses would “realize no benefit from this law.” The governor vetoed similar legislation in August.

To that end, the president of the ABC-New Jersey chapter, Samantha DeAlmeida condemned the new PLA mandate on several fronts, including favoring special interest groups while hurting small businesses. “It will eliminate competition from the available
pool of qualified merit shop contractors who simply want to compete on a level playing
field when bidding for work in their own communities,” said DeAlmeida. She added,
“The bottom line is this law is nothing more than a taxpayer subsidy to big labor.”

However, this is not the first time ABC and some of its affiliates have taken on state or federal politicos regarding Project Labor Agreements. For example, in 2018, the organization petitioned then President Donald Trump to rescind a policy that federal agencies require PLA’s on federal and federally assisted construction projects of $25 million or more. Their efforts were unsuccessful.

Lastly, in a related issue, earlier this week, an official at the ABC criticized a decision by the U.S. Department of Labor to nullify legislation regarding the role and protection of independent contractors. “The withdrawal will harm small businesses and the entire construction industry,” said Ben Brubeck, vice president of regulatory, labor, and state affairs. Brubeck said the elimination of the legislation is a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, which provides clarity and protection of independent contractors. “Independent contractors are an essential lifeline to the construction industry,” Brubeck said. The organization filed a formal complaint in federal court against the Department of Labor disputing the removal of the independent contractor rule earlier this year.

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