Santa Fe Struggles to Implement CWA Mandate; Will Likely Delay Requirement’s Effective Date

0 June 13, 2012  State & Local Construction

Readers of this blog remember that earlier this year the Santa Fe City Council adopted a policy that requires the use of community workforce agreements (CWA) – a wasteful and discriminatory project labor agreement (PLA) by another name – on all city projects costing more than $500,000.

Since this requirement was adopted, the city negotiated a CWA with the construction unions and applied this requirement to an upcoming firehouse renovation project. The CWA contains all of the provisions the merit shop community would expect in a PLA:

  • Requires all employers to recognize the union as the representative of all workers on the project.
  • Requires all workers on the project to join the union and pay union dues.
  • Requires contractors to get at least half of their workers from union hiring halls, which will deprive many qualified merit shop workers from working on the project at all.
  • Requires contractors to pay into union pension and benefit funds, even though merit shop workers will not benefit from these contributions unless they join the union in perpetuity.

The first project scheduled to be covered by this requirement is a local fire station renovation and addition. Although this is a relatively small project, the city added the CWA requirement to the bid packet—setting off a proverbial firestorm.

Upon learning that this project would have a CWA requirement, nearly all of the qualified local prospective bidders concluded they could not effectively compete for this project. The city held a pre-bid meeting to discuss the CWA requirement and from all reports, things got heated. Contractors were up in arms that they would be unable to fairly compete for a project in their own community funded by their own tax dollars.

In response to this controversy, the Santa Fe City Council is expected to delay implementation of this requirement until October 2012 in order to develop a procedure for making CWAs work.

While this is a positive step, it is not enough. CWA requirements tilt the playing field in favor of unionized contractors and their all-union workforces. They make it nearly impossible for merit shop contractors to compete. We have discussed why that occurs on the blog here. There is nothing the city can do to make a CWA requirement workable for the construction firms that employ 96 percent of New Mexico’s construction workforce.

This delay will simply give union bosses time to find signatory contractors from outside the area to bid on Santa Fe projects.

The Albuquerque Journal editorial board today voiced its opposition to this requirement, stating:

Even in the best of times, decreasing competition and increasing prices is a bad idea, and this ordinance is likely to do both. And, it’s simply unfair to construction companies trying to stay alive in a tough economy. Anyone should be free to join a union. You shouldn’t have to join a union to bid on a taxpayer-funded job.

The Journal is absolutely right. This requirement is bad for the construction industry and taxpayers. It sets a bad precedent in a state that hasn’t experienced significant CWA/PLA activity.

Try as they might, city leaders will not be able to find a way to make this union handout work.  It must be repealed.

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