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PLA, Local Jobs Needed in Exchange for Large-Scale Construction Incentives, Unions Say

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With the announcement that the first of four construction phases will be completed  Milwaukee based G.C. Schmidt Inc. and local trades unions are hoping to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) to get quality workers on the the new $450 million Northwestern Mutual tower in Milwaukee. The project will rise 32 stories above the city’s skyline and create 1,000 construction jobs.

With construction slated to begin in September of 2014 the time is now for a PLA to be hammered out.  Northwestern Mutual has committed to hiring local builders and workers for a “significant portion of the work.”  Still, no formal PLA has been discussed.  Balistreri says the PLA he will propose will not require a union-only workforce, but will require union wages and language to prevent labor stoppages.  

Northwestern Mutual CEO John Schlifske has gone out of his way to include small, minority-owned businesses in the initial contract phase.  After unveiling the new design he said,

We’ve been a key part of this city for over 150 years and we expect to be a key part of this city for another 150 years-plus.  We wanted to make sure that this building reinforced that statement not only in terms of the architecture — what it would mean — but in terms of jobs to this city and helping expand the economic base.”

In receiving aid from the city, Northwestern Mutual has made a promise to employ local workers.  They have also stated that their goal is to help employ and empower minority-owned businesses throughout the process:

Northwestern Mutual, through its agreement to receive $54 million in city support, agreed to award a quarter of its contract dollars to small businesses. It also pledged to have underemployed or unemployed Milwaukee residents perform 40 percent of hours worked on the project.

Hines is inviting local minority-owned firms to compete for design work in the early phases, said J.T. Williams, president of American Design Inc., Milwaukee. American Design is among 14 local consulting firms supporting larger national architects and engineers on the Northwestern project.

“They reached out to us,” Williams said. “As much as you know, you still learn a little bit more when you work on a project of this complexity. Yes, it’s the immediate dollars, but it’s also the learning curve.”

New Berlin-based Dakota Intertek Corp. is competing for a subcontract on the next major phase of the project, demolition of the east office building, said Wenbin Yuan, chief executive officer. Yuan said his firm submitted quotes to Brandenburg Industrial Service Co., a Chicago-based demolition contractor competing for the east building demolition contract.

Massive projects such as Northwestern’s have reams of contract documents and legal sections 500 pages long, Yuan said. If owners and prime contractors do not help smaller companies, they can be left behind, he said.

“It’s about the prime contractor’s dedication to hiring minority contractors,” Yuan said. “(Northwestern Mutual) tried very hard. They started early on. They’re calling people. They’re giving the real, genuine opportunity for subs.”

The first contracts were awarded to local companies but the next phases are likely to include out of town bids. Balisteri notes that similar projects at the Wisconsin Center and Miller Park went to joint ventures between local and national companies.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they partnered with some of our local contractors,” Balistreri said. “It’s all in the air because we do have local firms who could step up and do the whole thing.”


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