In Cumberland County, New Jersey, unemployment rates among some construction trades still hover around 40 percent. As many union workers make hard decisions about their family budgets while waiting for work to come to their area, the local government is turning a blind eye to their hardships by bypassing state laws which mandate Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) on state-funded projects.
This negligence has allowed out-of-state contractors to bid on the Vine Street School Project in Bridgeton. Traditionally, the use of out-of-state contractors on such projects has led to prevailing wages being ignored and out-of-state workers being brought in, thus undercutting the community-benefiting aspects of local workers doing local work.
In an op-ed appearing in the Daily Journal, James Kehoe of the Southern NJ Building and Construction Trades Council condemns the board saying, “their boneheaded position defies logic.” Kehoe suggests the board pretended to allow the council to have input into the decision-making process:
To add insult to injury, the freeholder board asked the Southern New Jersey Building Trades Council to draft a proposed resolution to hire only skilled labor from within Cumberland County. We complied, but even that got shot down. It seems the deal was already done before a single vote was taken.
PLAs traditionally mandate wage standards, hiring of minorities and women, and attention to the growth of apprenticeship programs to prepare future generations of workers. Despite this, Kehoe says, the baord has decided that low-road partisanship is more important than the needs of its constituency:
Non-union labor are notorious for using unskilled illegal immigrants or shipping in workers from other parts of the country who aren’t familiar with our communities or pay property taxes or rent here. They too often refuse to pay their workers prevailing wage, lack proper insurance, and put their workers into dangerous or challenging work environments they just aren’t prepared for.
It is simply unacceptable that an elected governing body could turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the many skilled union men and women who are out of work and actually reside in Cumberland County.