The debate about project labor agreement (PLA) mandates in New Mexico has moved from Santa Fe to Albuquerque. Unfortunately for construction union bosses in the state, it looks like Albuquerque voters aren’t ready to buy their bill of goods either.
In a poll conducted last week, in the wake of the most recent 2013 mayoral candidate debate, 51 percent of city voters oppose requiring contractors who bid on large city government construction projects to use union workers. This question, which was included in a poll conducted by The Albuquerque Journal in early September was intended to determine public opinion on the PLA issue.
Here are the highlights from The Albuquerque Journal’s coverage of the polling results:
Fifty-one percent of those polled last week said they opposed placing such restrictions on contractors, while 38 percent said they support it. Six percent didn’t know or wouldn’t say, and 5 percent said it depends on a variety of factors.
Opposition ran strongest among Republicans (73 percent), men (56 percent) and people between the ages of 50 and 64 (56 percent). Conversely, support was strongest among Democrats (56 percent), Hispanics (43 percent), women (42 percent) and people between the ages of 18 and 34 (42 percent).
The question was intended to gauge public sentiment for so-called “project labor agreements,” which surfaced as a contentious issue among the three mayoral candidates at a political forum last month.
Such agreements generally require contractors who bid on large government projects to use union labor and abide by union working conditions for the duration of the project, among other provisions.
Mayor Richard Berry is on record in opposition, saying imposing those conditions on contractors would raise the cost of city-financed projects. Challengers Pete Dinelli and Paul Heh support project labor agreements because they believe they ensure fair wages for workers.
Roxanne Rivera-Weist, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of New Mexico, said she was not surprised by the poll results.
“I think that the majority of people are against having a mandate to use union workers,” she said Friday, noting that only 8 percent of the state’s construction workforce is unionized.
“It’s not a matter of whether you are pro-union or anti-union. It’s a matter of mandating it.”
Government-mandated PLAs have been a hot issue in New Mexico since 2012, when the City of Santa Fe quietly adopted an ordinance requiring community workforce agreements (CWA) on all city projects costing more than $500,000. A CWA is just another name for a PLA. The council repealed the pro-union mandate in February 2013 in the face of significant public outcry and compelling evidence that the policy was unworkable in a state where 94 percent of the construction workforce chooses not to join a labor organization.
The Albuquerque mayoral candidates were asked about the PLA issue by Roxanne Rivera-Wiest, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of New Mexico, during a mayoral debate on Aug. 26. While incumbent Mayor Richard Berry (R) said he strongly opposes government-mandated PLAs on city projects, his challengers Pete Dinelli (D) and Paul Heh (D) said they would support PLA mandates if elected. The Albuquerque Journal covered the debate and the PLA question in particular.
With the mayoral election coming up this fall, it is sad to see politics getting in the way of good policy. In Santa Fe, the progressive city council discovered the community wants the best construction at the best price–not special interest handouts—for their tax dollars. They repealed the CWA ordinance because it was unworkable and it was the right thing to do for the people of Santa Fe. Polls show the people of Albuquerque also are opposed to PLA mandates and local politicians ignore the will of the people at their own peril.