Contractors Fight PLA Mandate on Pittsburgh Area Community College Project

0 August 12, 2010  School Construction, State & Local Construction, Uncategorized

There has been a flurry of activity surrounding the fight for fair and open competition in the Pittsburgh area over the last 72 hours. The Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) was scheduled to receive bids for the $21 million construction of a new 65,000 sq. ft. science center on August 10. Unfortunately, buried within the request for proposal calling for bids, laid a requirement that all contractors must sign a project stabilization agreement with the Big Labor in order to perform this work.

As readers of have come to find out, project stabilization agreement is just another term for a project labor agreement (PLA).

In other words, new name…same old waste and discrimination.

In response to the PLA requirement in the bid documents, several contractors that would have bid this work and the Western Pennsylvania Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) filed a lawsuit against the community college to seek an immediate injunction barring the school from requiring a PLA as a condition of working on the project.

On Tuesday, August 10, in response to this lawsuit, the college cancelled the bids and put the project on hold while they assess their next move.  This development was covered by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (“CCAC Campus Project Bidding on Hold,” 8/11/10), here is an excerpt from their story:

Associated Builders & Contractors of Western Pennsylvania, the trade group that sued Monday, asked a judge to delay construction on the science center because of a so-called project labor agreement that would require 90 percent of workers to belong to labor unions.

College officials have said the requirement mirrors one Allegheny County uses, but county officials said they do not require agencies to use a specific percentage of union labor. Construction of the center relies heavily on state taxpayer funding.


The Tribune-Review detailed the issue in a story Sunday (“CCAC Project Labor Mandate Irks Competitors,” 8/8/10).

Several Pittsburgh-area business owners who are part of the lawsuit said they felt excluded by CCAC’s requirement to include so many union workers, which they said is unfair, hurts competition and increases costs.

“The decision of CCAC to halt bidding may appear to be a success, but does not ensure that future projects will not have a (project labor agreement),” said ABC President Eileen Watt, a former Republican member of Allegheny County Council.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also picked up the story (“CCAC Cancels Bid Deadline for New Science Building,” 8/11/10).

Despite the CCAC Board of Trustees’ wise decision to take a closer look at the procurement process for this particular project, the fact remains that the threat of PLA activity on future construction on the CCAC campus is still very real.

As a result, the ABC Western Pennsylvania Chapter announced Tuesday that they plan to continue their effort to educate the public about the true nature of wasteful and discriminatory PLAs.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter’s August 10 press release:

In response to CCAC’s decision, ABC urges the CCAC board to turn their words into action, more specifically – policy.

“The decision of CCAC to halt bidding may appear to be a success, but does not ensure that future projects will not have a PLA,” said ABC President, Eileen Watt. “This is a political stunt to appease small businesses in order to save elections,” continued Watt. Originally, CCAC intended to issue blanket PLA’s which would apply to all future construction projects – not just the science building.

“ABC will not consider this a victory until we see a policy that rejects PLA-only bids for all CCAC projects in the future,” said ABC Chairman, Robert Glancy, of R.A. Glancy & Sons. In the 2009 general budget, Allegheny County funded $22 million dollars to CCAC. ABC believes that only a vote from County Council or an executive order from Chief Executive, Dan Onorato, will truly protect taxpayer and student tuition. By allowing competition and keeping markets open, prices will be kept down on projects and the taxpayers will then have a win. ABC argues that until Allegheny County Council and Chief Executive Dan Onorato establish a policy in writing that rejects PLA-only projects, there is no victory for the taxpayers of Allegheny County.

It turns out that the ABC Western Pennsylvania Chapter and its members aren’t the only ones opposed to potential PLA mandates on CCAC projects.  The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s editorial board weighed in on August 11 (“A Rotten Deal,” 8/11/10).

Here are the highlights.

The nonunion Associated Builders and Contractors Inc.’s legal challenge to Community College of Allegheny County’s 90-percent union labor requirement for a $21 million science center project is a textbook case of the unfairness of project labor agreements (PLAs) to taxpayers and nonunion workers.

Citing the lawsuit, CCAC has canceled the bid deadline.

The college’s labor agreement places nonunion firms and their employees at an unfair disadvantage that cries out for elimination. Nonunion contractors should be able to bid without hiring union members. And the public deserves better, too, with study after study showing PLAs needlessly raise costs borne by taxpayers.

Even PLAs that don’t require a percentage of union labor but do require that contractors pay “prevailing wages” — such as those used by Butler and Westmoreland counties’ community colleges — inflate taxpayers’ bills. Set artificially high by union-beholden politicians, prevailing wages help maintain unions’ stranglehold on taxpayer-funded construction jobs.

In challenging the CCAC deal, the contractors group (which also is appealing Commonwealth Court’s approval of a PLA for a $400 million prison to the state Supreme Court) — is fighting for fairness and equity and the best bang for the taxpayers’ buck.

There are clearly more developments to come as this situation continues to develop.

This situation is also an important reminder for why it is essential for the Pennsylvania General Assembly to take action on Rep. John Bear’s (R-Lancaster) H.B. 2010, the Open Contracting Act.  This bill would prohibit PLAs on any commonwealth funded construction projects, which would include this new science center on CCAC’s campus.

Please check out our earlier post for more information on wasteful and discriminatory PLAs on Pennsylvania.

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