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PLAs Help Grow Local Economy
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen, Opinion/Letters
June 21, 2003
p. 15A

[and see the related Nicholas Johnson, "Make School Projects Labor-Friendly," and
"Proposal for I.C. School Builders is Akin to Teachers' Pacts"]

NOTE: Because this piece is a response to John H. Lind, "Bad PLA(y) on School Building," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 14, 2003, p. 15A, it is reproduced below.

As we celebrate the Ford Motor Company’s first century, there are lessons for Iowa in the 100-year-old secret to Henry Ford’s wealth.

Ford proved that greater wealth comes to employers who pay their workers enough that they can afford to become customers, in Ford’s case car buyers. It may be a no-brainer, but a century later some in business still haven’t grasped this simple truth.

Wonder why we can’t keep our Iowa graduates in-state? Iowa’s wages are already 43rd in the nation. Parents working full time at Iowa’s minimum wage earn $3000 less than “poverty.”

Our state, like our nation, cannot build economic growth on layoffs and reducing wages. And yet that’s what architect John Lind’s June 14 column (“Bad PLA(y) on school building”) urges the school board to perpetuate.

The proposed Project Labor Agreement only involves about 5 percent of the school bond-funded construction. Contrary to Lind’s ideology-driven, inaccurate, anti-worker assertions, it is not a requirement for union labor, “regimentality,” “programmed ideology,” “strikes,” “expensive for taxpayers” or “exploitive to children.”

Want to ignore human decency and only look at it like a greedy, steely-eyed bean counter? OK. PLAs produce savings, not costs – especially when future corrections, repairs and maintenance are counted.

That’s one of the reasons PLAs are so widely used by experienced builders in the private sector. They are more likely to complete projects with quality workmanship, ahead of schedule and under budget. Why deny the public sector these benefits? Don’t our school children deserve as much?

Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City


John H. Lind, "Bad PLA(y) on School Building," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 14, 2003, p. 15A

In the guest opinion "Make School Projects Labor Friendly" (May 15), Nicholas Johnson argued that the Iowa City School District Board should back a proposal -- the Project Labor Agreement -- put forth by local construction unions.

But Mr. Johnson didn't present the real fallout from this endeavor. There is another side to the proposal that, not surprisingly, makes the PLA objectionable to many in our community. History has shown this surreptitiously timed offering to be expensive to taxpayers and harmful to teachers and exploitive to children. As an architect, I witnessed similar situations to PLA on many projects where government grants were involved. During its federal legal life as the Davis-Bacon Act, it foisted minimum wages on contractors bidding for projects across the United States. The government required this action under threat of severe penalties. It also required budgets, particularly in the Midwest, to be dramatically increased.

The penalty PLA gives to taxpayers and students is about 10 percent higher costs and, ergo, 10 percent fewer facilities for the learning environment of students and teachers alike. Experience shows us this, and hence the legislation was repealed. PLA can be seen as a method to expand spending taxpayer's money and to rob our children of much needed facilities.

Too Late for this Expense

The coaches and quarterbacks of this late fourth quarter PLA(y) surely kept their game quiet while the school administration and board carefully tuned the Facility Programming and Development Budget preceding the February bond referendum. The representative persons I know on our School Board would have presented this (potentially millions of dollars) shrinkage in their voter information processes. Truly, it's too late to go forth with this expensive and expansive plan. Some residents feel a little taken by this late entry into the planning and budgeting process. While I have familial and community reasons for the highest quality education in our district, it is very possible that many voters would have opposed the referendum had this plan been espoused prior to voting.

Nor does Mr. Johnson explain the threat of strikes by his fellow "grow government bigger" friends: "sign the agreement, and we don't strike you" and raise havoc upon your lives and your students' education. Lawyers have another name for this approach. Why don't union bosses/political leaders tell us how unselfishly they are for education and less taxation? Why don't they announce today they will not strike our school district projects because they know time is of the essence? Why do they want their neighbors and their children to be shortchanged in their back pockets and under their caps at this late date?

Enhancing Political Ideology

Another disadvantage to signing on to the PLA(y) is regimentality. We'll all go to work at the same time, eat at the same time, take a break at the same time and take our holidays at the same time. That might not appeal to tight-scheduled working moms and dads so much. Some Americans see individuality as a strength of our nation, not a threat. Some of us thrive on it -- really we do.

It also could be seen as programmed ideology to enhance a leftist political point of view: grow taxes and grow government. Further, this proposal advances a long term plan to "organize" the non-union contractors and workers in the area.

The private sectors of our society have a major role to play. There are very skilled workers and contractors and architects in our local construction pool. At this time, all of us must ask the School Board to give everyone a level playing field and our children a pass on this fourth down, late in the game, PLA(y) approach. Unionizing these contracts through political agenda is not in the best interest of all of us, short and long term.
John H. Lind is an Iowa City architect. He can be reached at