Vermont leaders have said no to a proposed project labor agreement (PLA), which essentially mirrors most standard PLAs, for the Champlain Bridge reconstruction project.
Now will New York State listen?
As regular readers of TheTruthAboutPLAs.com remember, the Champlain Bridge project is a $110 million joint effort between New York State and Vermont – with significant federal financial support – to rebuild a major thoroughfare between their two states. The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) has taken the lead on spearheading the project’s construction.
As we posted Mar. 23, the Albany Times Union reported that the NYSDOT is soliciting bids for the project without a PLA requirement. Shortly after this article was released, acting NYSDOT Commissioner Stanley Gee issued a statement saying that no final decision had been made regarding a PLA mandate.
Despite Mr. Gee’s claim that no decision on whether to require a PLA, Vermont Agency of Transportation Director of Program Development Richard Tetreault apparently received NYSDOT’s draft PLA proposal a day later.
Then on Mar. 25, Mr. Tetreault shared his thoughts on the draft, which mirrors most PLAs throughout the country, in a letter to the NYSDOT (Our emphasis added):
Dear Mr. Dennison [Robert Dennison, NYSDOT Chief Engineer]:
We have reviewed the proposed Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for the Lake Champlain Bridge project that you sent via email yesterday evening. We have significant issue with the PLA, which precludes me from signing any amendment to the currently approved and advertised project’s PS&E if it includes the PLA.
Our concern focuses on one primary reason: The unionize labor provisions in the agreement essentially preclude every Vermont-based contractor in Vermont from participating as the General Contractor or Subcontractor on the project without overhauling their entire workforce and seeking employee approval through an obviously onerous process. Any PLA included in the project with our concurrence must have significant changes to any unionized labor provisions to make them fair and unburdensome to Vermont-based contractors and subcontractors.
I appreciate the time and effort you put into trying to negotiate a PLA agreeable to all parties. The bottom line, however, is that Vermont finds the proposed PLA unacceptable.
Mr. Tetreault isn’t the only Vermont public servant to express their displeasure with PLAs to the NYSDOT. On Mar. 26, the Vermont General Assembly House and Senate Transportation Committee chairs signed a joint letter stating:
The Committees would oppose any Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with terms that would have the effect of imposing higher costs on non-union contractors or subcontractors relative to the costs of union contractors or subcontractors, or otherwise would have the effect of putting any Vermont contractors or subcontractors at a competitive disadvantage. Moreover, the Committees would oppose any PLA with terms prescribing that Vermont contractors or subcontractors hire outside their usual labor pool, or specifying that they preferentially hire outside their usual labor pool before hiring within it.
We have obtained a copy of the proposed draft PLA and Mr. Tetreault is exactly right. This PLA is almost identical to the PLAs that we see all over the country. If mandated, this PLA will make contractors recognize the union as the sole representative of their employees, require employees to pay union dues, forces contractors to hire out of the union hiring halls and requires them to pay into union pension and health trust funds, from which their nonunion employees will never see a penny worth of benefit.
In addition to increasing construction costs by as much as 18 percent, this PLA will lead to many of the discriminatory effects the House and Senate Transportation Chairmen mentioned in their letter. Job opportunities for this project will only be open to the less than 5 percent of Vermont’s construction workforce that is unionized.
The ultimate result is that Vermont’s nonunion construction workforce need not apply thanks to New York’s construction union bosses and their connections to elected officials. From the Albany Times Union’s March 29 coverage:
Officials on both sides of the argument say NY DOT isn’t thrilled with a PLA, but Gov. David Paterson’s top aides want one. DOT officials say they won’t discuss negotiations. Nor will they give the Times Union the DOT-funded consultant’s report on the feasibility of a PLA.
Here at TheTruthAboutPLAs.com, we urge leaders in both states to scrap the proposed PLA. It is bad public policy that will cost taxpayers and the vast majority of construction workers dearly.
We also encourage anyone interested in this project to review ABC National’s Feb. 17 statement to the Vermont Senate Transportation Committee on the proposed Champlain Bridge project PLA.
Lake Champlain Bride project news wrap up:
Albany Times Union, “Bridge Deal Irks Vermont”
Burlington Free Press, “Vermont Rejects Labor Agreement for Champlain Bridge Project”
Battleboro Reformer, “Labor Trouble Looms Over Champlain Bridge Project”
Rutland Herald, “VT Possibly Shut Out of Work”
Vermont Today, “Labor Rules Pose Problem for State in Building Lake Champlain Bridge“