An article in The Columbus Dispatch explains how the revolving door shuffling Big Labor’s special interest lobbyists into Ohio government positions is helping funnel lucrative construction contracts to Big Labor through project labor agreements (PLAs) (“Unions get deaf, blind schools contract,” 6/14).
It’s a corrupt practice that will increase the cost of construction and deny taxpayers the accountability they deserve from government.
Richard Murray spent 13 years as the head of an organization dedicated to helping trade unions get construction contracts.
Now, as Gov. Ted Strickland’s pick to head the Ohio School Facilities Commission, Murray is helping unions more directly.
Last month, he unilaterally declared that only union workers will be used on a $37.1 million project to improve the campus shared by the Ohio School for the Deaf and the Ohio State School for the Blind in Columbus.
The “project labor agreement” he signed May 10 means all work must be done by union contractors or companies that agree to abide by union rules and use union labor.
Murray said his decision was primarily for safety.
“We were working on a site where we have some of the most vulnerable kids imaginable,” Murray said.
He said he is not implying that nonunion firms would have put deaf and blind students in danger but that without the agreement, the state would have been dealing solely with construction companies on safety issues, such as background checks. The agreement allows the state to also work directly with the unions, which Murray said offered him a higher level of comfort.
The safety argument is “a slap in the face to the majority of the construction companies that aren’t union,” said Mary Tebeau, president of the central Ohio chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors. The group represents nonunion companies.
“It’s an excuse to give a nearly $40 million contract to union contractors, at the expense of the majority of workers in Ohio.”
Murray said there were other considerations: The joint campus is “a very difficult, large-acreage site” that is in an “urban area,” he said.
“That is ridiculous – ridiculous,” Tebeau said.
The schools are located on a large, wooded site on the north side of Morse Road in Beechwold.
This corruption is also denying jobs to qualified nonunion contractors and their skilled and local employees:
Nonunion workers wanting jobs on the project must go to a union hall, get a number and hope to be assigned to their original employer. They would get union wages, but they also would pay into the unions’ health, vacation and retirement funds – even though their temporary status means they probably never would collect those benefits, Tebeau said.
Because of those complications, most nonunion firms and laborers do not apply for such jobs, Tebeau said.
“What she’s saying (about nonunion firms not applying) is probably the truth, but that’s their choice,” said Pasquale “Pat” Manzi, executive secretary-treasurer of the Columbus and Central Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council, a union umbrella group.
If they apply, they will be treated fairly, he said. The agreement prohibits discriminating against nonunion workers with job assignments, but they are required to join the union after seven days on a job, said Manzi, whose signature is also on the project-labor agreement.
He also disputed Tebeau’s notion that nonunion construction firms have many full-time employees – they call up most of their workers when needed for jobs, just like with union shops, Manzi said. Unlike union workers, nonunion laborers typically aren’t receiving benefits when there is no work, he said.
“When you’re a nonunion guy, you shuffle for yourself,” Manzi said.
The School Facilities Commission board hired Murray on Gov. Ted Strickland’s recommendation in September. From 1996 until then, Murray led the Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust, whose “primary mission is helping laborers’ local unions and the contractors with whom they work acquire projects and jobs,” according to the commission’s website.
Normally, a school board would have to vote if it wanted a project labor agreement on a Facilities Commission-funded construction project, but the deaf and blind schools are state agencies, so the decision fell to Murray.
It’s no secret that Murray is more union-friendly than his predecessors, who were recommended by Republican governors and who prohibited project labor agreements and prevailing wages, Manzi said.
“It’s a change in philosophy because it’s a change in administration,” Manzi said.
Remember that Manzi admits that PLAs require nonunion craft professionals to join a union in order to work on a PLA project.
In addition, Manzi is mistaken when he claims that nonunion contractors don’t have an existing full-time workforce that will be harmed by this PLA discrimination. Manzi’s also mistaken when he claims that nonunion employees don’t receive benefits when they aren’t working.
These are typical lies and misinformation spread by PLA proponents that need to be examined carefully. The bottom line is that PLAs are a corrupt scheme for Big Labor to regain lost market share through political patronage.