Don't Drink the Tea. Think With the WE.

Are Non-Union Contractors Abstaining from Bidding on Projects to Undermine PLAs?

An old high school now houses the Board of Education in Meriden, CT

It has been over a year since we first addressed Meriden, Connecticut’s interest in a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for school construction which required a tie-breaking vote cast by the city’s Mayor for approval. So, it is rather shocking to read about new developments in what seemed like an “old news” item.

But an article published over the weekend highlights a new concern, one that is unsettling though not entirely surprising considering the ruthlessness of the characters involved. It deals with non-union contractors refusing to bid on the project in order to make the PLA under which the project is being built appear anti-competitive. These non-union contractors are often affiliated with the Associated Builders & Contractors of America (ABC), the lobby most responsible for fighting against PLAs, so the scent of malfeasance is in the air.

If PLAs can truly be shown to box out non-union contractors and workers — something as yet unproven — then their presence in cities like Meridien could easily be undermined. Via The Record Journal:

Those not affiliated with the unions blame the PLA agreement for fewer contractors bidding on the Maloney project.

The city’s agreement sets forth conditions for the projects, including goals for hiring local, minority, female, veteran and apprentice labor. It would also prevent strikes and work stoppages, among other stipulations, and would require non-union firms to pay union dues should they win a bid.

The Maloney general contractor estimated construction costs at just over $73 million, along with $2 million for abatement. The total of the lowest bids has amounted to more than $83.8 million.

Non-union shops have not been bidding on the work.

Lelah Campo, president of the Connecticut Association of Builders and Contractors, said there is no shortage of firms available to bid on construction projects. In fact, there are more now than before the recession.

Roche, of the trades council, said he sees something more calculated happening in the shortage of bids. He said it’s not unusual for large construction projects to be rebid a second or third time, and accuses the non-union shops of holding back to draw negative attention to the PLA.

“It’s a scare,” Roche said. “They want to wave a flag and say, ‘See, it’s the PLA’s fault.’ They know it’s coming back lower the second time.”

Cadden acknowledged that could be a possibility and said it also allows the non-union shops to get a look at what the union shops are bidding so they can compete during a second round.

But Roche said an uptick in area projects may be stretching contractors too thin and affecting the number of contractors available for large-scale projects.

Fabricating and/or misinterpreting statistics is generally how the ABC and its affiliates go about attacking PLAs. But abstaining from bidding on the very work that might employ the construction workers the organization and its contractors allege to represent, all in the name of legislative maneuvering, is a new low. It puts the “pu” in unscrupulous. Here’s hoping — for non-union construction workers’ collective sake — that this is not what is going on.


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