The Columbus Dispatch reports that Ohio Inspector General Thomas P. Charles is investigating whether Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) Director Richard Murray behaved inappropriately by “pushing districts to use union labor through project labor agreements” (PLAs) (“School Facilities Commission director probed for pushing union use,” 6/20/10):
Murray formerly was the head of Ohio LECET, a group that assists union workers and the firms employing them in winning construction contracts. Strickland recommended him for the facilities commission post, and the commission agreed, hiring him Sept. 3.
Two of the commission’s three voting members report directly to the governor. Strickland, a Democrat, is seeking re-election this year with unions’ backing.
Last month, Murray unilaterally decided that union workers will rebuild the Ohio deaf and blind schools in Columbus’ Beechwold neighborhood, saying a project labor agreement there will help to ensure safety.
The OSFC controls state funding for schools:
Since its inception in 1997, the commission has distributed more than $8.3 billion for school construction and renovation, resulting in 760 new and renovated schools for about 423,000 children.
Gov. Strickland appointed Murray to be his bagman after his first appointee, Michael Shoemaker, refused to participate in crony contracting:
Murray replaced Michael Shoemaker, a Democratic former state lawmaker and school teacher who also had been a Strickland pick. Shoemaker said he was under intense pressure from union officials to oust non-union firms from jobs.
For the first 10 years of the commission’s operations, under Republican governors, it prohibited PLAs or the payment of prevailing union wages, which effectively locked unions out of the work, Shoemaker said. When Strickland took over, unions were demanding payback, Shoemaker said.
“This is still a fight in the civil war over prevailing wage that started in 1997,” Shoemaker said Friday.
“To be fair, I could have probably still been there if I had thrown out the non-union guys. I think the construction managers have been told: ‘You find something wrong with these non-union contracts.’ I think that’s the method to the madness.”
Shoemaker isn’t the only public servant rejecting Strickland’s back-door politics:
Elaine Barnes quit her job as green schools program manager this year partly because of what she described as Murray’s unwritten rules to help unions.
The political pressure to find something wrong with nonunion contractors performing public contracts is common in state and localities rife with corruption. Laws are not enforced fairly and Big Labor advocates and Union Bosses within government turn a blind eye to mistakes made by their pals while aggressively attacking their nonunion competitors. That’s why politics is such an important part of the construction industry.
However, the lack of PLAs or prevailing union wages did not lock out union contractors: i simply prevents a union monopoly on contracts. Without union prevailing wages, taxpayers are better served when the market determines wages — not government bureaucracies entangled with union contracts and special interests.
If you haven’t read Understanding the Politics of Project Labor Agreements, this brief synopsis should help you digest the level of corruption when surrounding government-mandated PLAs and this debacle with the OSFC in Ohio.
- Big Labor takes member dues to help elect Big Labor-friendly Strickland.
- Strickland wins.
- Big Labor demands payback now that Strickland is in office.
- Strickland appoints Shoemaker to be his Big Labor bagman.
- OSFC director Shoemaker says no to corruption.
- Big Labor complains.
- Strickland needs Big Labor endorsements and money for 2010 governor’s race.
- OSFC director Shoemaker is ousted and replaced by Strickland-crony and former union boss Murray.
- Murray leans on Ohio school districts to adopt PLAs in exchange for state funds.
- Big Labor receives non-competitive state contracts that inflate instruction costs.
- Taxpayers pay more and get less: four schools built for the price of five.
- Nonunion employees and contractors suffer from increased unemployment.
- Big Labor supports Strickland in reelection.
- If Strickland is re-elected, the cycle of corruption continues.
This is exactly why citizens like the folks in Chula Vista, Calif. have voted to ban PLAs on public projects. They voted to keep their government accountable and say no to waste and backroom deals.
The Columbus Dispatch and citizen journalists need to keep digging; the corruption, pay-to-play politics and cronyism here need to be exposed. Don’t count on a report from the Ohio Inspector General to get any results as it will just be buried by Strickland’s administration and re-election campaign.
The entire country should keep an eye on this situation, as the federal government is engaged in this exact type of crony contracting thanks to President Obama’s pro-PLA Executive Order 13502.