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What About Bob? Contractors Entering into PLAs on Dulles Silver Line Despite Gov’s Opposition

Dulles Silver Line rendering

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When the second phase of the Dulles Silver Line project was taking shape, Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) briefly became a hot topic in Virginia. Gov. Bob McDonnell found himself in hot topic hot water when an investigation into the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) found that he had orchestrated the ouster of pro-PLA members of the authority which was designed to be non-partisan.  After McDonnell’s string-pulling and a threat to withhold funding for the project if a PLA was used, the MWAA eventually voted against mandating the PLA (which would have laid out local and diversity hiring standards, among other community benefits) for the second phase of the project.  

But as the Washington Post reported this week, the positive outcomes related to PLAs appear to be prevailing. Companies have volunteered to use PLAs despite the partisan infighting simply because of their benefits:

“Clark Foundations, LLC, a subsidiary of Clark Construction Group, LLC, and a partner of Capital Rail Constructors, LLC, has executed a project specific agreement with Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) to help supply labor to the project,” according to an e-mailed statement from Keith Couch, project director for Capital Rail Constructors. Couch added that: “The use of both union and nonunion labor has worked successfully for us on many other major projects in this area.”

McDonnell’s fight was more pageantry than policy and he used the public debate to define himself as hard on unions. He was a rising star in the party having given the Republican response to the 2010 State of the Union address. He was the head of the Republican Governors Association in 2011.  In the 2012 elections, his name came up as a possible VP candidate.  But this year the Virginia statehouse has been marked by scandal. McDonnell’s political future is more up in the air than ever.  Perhaps because of this, his administration took a softer tone when confronted with the news that PLAs were popping up on the Dulles project. Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton told the Washington Post that the governor had “no issue with the use of PLA’s as long as they were voluntary.”

“It has been the Commonwealth’s position all along that PLAs or other labor arrangements are acceptable if such agreements are entered into voluntarily between the employer and the labor union,” he said in an e-mailed response, adding that, “Our concern with the pending procurement for Phase 2 of Dulles Rail were the proposals to make PLAs mandatory or to give some sort of preference in awarding the construction contract to bidders with PLAs. Such arrangements do not meet the letter or spirit of Virginia law and, accordingly, we opposed them.”

A well-worded walkback, to be sure.


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