Virginia, Not Satisfied With Being a Private Sector Wage-Crushing “Right-to-Work” State, Takes Aim at Safety, Wages, Diversity Standards on Construction Projects
Virginia Republicans look to further diminish the power of unions in the already-Right-to-Work Old Dominion with a bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday that would ban the use of Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) on any project that receives funding from the state. Although there is no specific language stating it, the move was implemented to guarantee that the second phase of the 23-mile Dulles Metrorail extension will be completed without a PLA and the potentially safe, diverse union workforce that such an agreement would attract.
According to righty rag The Washington Times, Lieutenant Governor Bob Bolling, a Republican, cast the final vote that allowed the bill to pass after the Senate produced a 20-20 tie. Governor Bob McDonnell is expected to sign the bill into law. Virginia Republicans’ deeply rooted anti-labor philosophies were described by Bolling to the Times:
“Public dollars should not be diverted to projects involving Project Labor Agreements that favor union shops over merit shops,” Mr. Bolling said in a statement. “This critical legislation protects our right-to-work law and continues to promote a pro-business environment.”
Republicans are being redundant in forcing their power with this bill as the state’s Right-to-Work law already makes union membership an uphill trek. The bill was introduced by State Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg). Obenshain is spreading textbook anti-PLA misinformation about union exclusivity:
“Bidding should be open to union and non-union contractors alike. We shouldn’t be playing favorites when taxpayer dollars are on the line. SB 242 is about getting the most value for taxpayer dollars, and it put an end to union-only PLA language that leaves Virginia contractors out in the cold.’’
Of course, PLAs do not insist union labor upon a project, they merely demand standards of conduct, cooperation and cross-demographic involvement that many construction unions can live up. Further, anti-PLA legislation reflects a crisis of ideology in that it is touted by small government wolf criers but represents a very “big government” approach.
Democrat David Englin (45th district) questions what good the law does:
“It’s preventing the commonwealth from ever using this tool to protect taxpayer interests,” he said. “I’m simply concerned that we not tie the commonwealth’s hand and take away what can be, in some cases, a valuable tool.”
The debate about PLA use on the Dulles project rages on, however. Beacon’s Rebellion provides a brief outlook:
Now the ball’s in (Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority) MWAA’s court. The board has refused to seat two new board members appointed by Gov. Bob McDonnell until Virginia and Washington, D.C., ratify changes to the bistate compact governing MWAA. That means the existing MWAA board will have a free hand until the necessary ratification goes into effect July 1. There is a high probability that MWAA will issue its guidelines for the Phase 2 bids before then. According to a recent “presolicitation paper,” MWAA expects to issue its RFP in May.
The MWAA board meets again Feb. 15, but it has to be careful not to antagonize McDonnell and the Republican-dominated General Assembly — MWAA still needs that $150 million in supplemental state funds to make the Phase 2 project financing work. If cooler heads prevail, MWAA may keep mum on its intentions until after the General Assembly session, giving legislators no cause to deny the extra money. I’m not enough of a parliamentarian to know what happens if the General Assembly approprites the funds but MWAA subsequently includes a mandatory PLA in its RFP. Is there a way for McDonnell to withhold the funds?
Whatever the answer, this drama is far from over.