On December 6, the Albuquerque City Council voted 6-3 to amend the city’s “Public Purchases Ordinance” to require Project Labor Agreements (PLA’s) on all future city construction projects that cost at least $10 million and that employ workers from at least three crafts according to the ordinance. According to the enacted ordinance, a PLA is defined as “pre-hire collective bargaining agreement with one or more labor organizations or with their representatives that establishes the terms and conditions of employment” on a specific city construction project. General contractors who successfully win applicable city projects will now have to execute a PLA that governs all construction work.
Not at all surprising, the ordinance is being blasted as “pro union”. It was strenuously opposed by the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, the real estate and development community including the National Association of Commerce and Industry (NAIOP) and other business organizations and conservative Republican “right to work” proponents. Voting YES for the measure were all Democrat City Councilors Cynthia Borrego, Pat Davis, Lan Sena, Isaac Benton, Diane Gibson and Klarisa Peña. Voting NO were Republicans Trudy Jones, Don Harris and Brook Bassan.
PROJECT LABOR AGREEMENTS EXPLAINED
Project Labor Agreements also known as PLAs have been around for decades and are collective bargaining agreements between building trade unions and contractors. Federal legislation allows the use of project labor agreement, which are essentially a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement to establish employment terms, including wages and working conditions on construction projects. They govern terms and conditions of employment for all craft workers, union and nonunion, on a government construction project. PLA’s mandate the use of a skilled labor force and licensed workers such as plumbers, electricians and carpenters in construction contracts and mandate the payment of prevailing union wage to both union and nonunion workers.
PSA’s are controversial on a number of levels and are highly vilified by anti union and “right to work” advocates. Under the National Labor Relations Act, construction contractors and employees have the right to choose to unionize or not to unionize. The vast majority of contractors and their employees voluntarily opt against unionization. A project labor agreement requires all contractors, whether they are unionized or not, to pay the going rates or hourly wages paid to skilled and licensed labor. The most common objection voiced against PSA’s is that qualified non-union contractors who wish to make lower-cost bids, and employees who wish to work non-union, are locked out of government construction projects. Another opposition argument is that use of PSA’s usually results in cost overruns and higher construction costs for taxpayers.
REACTION TO ORDIANCE
The bill was formally introduced without discussion at the November 15 City Council meeting and was not heard by a City Council committee ahead of December 6 city council vote.
It was outgoing Democrats City Councilors Cynthia Borrego and Lan Sena who sponsored the legislation and they will be leaving office come January 1, 2022. Democrat Borrego lost her bid for another term to conservative former City Councilor Republican Dan Lewis. Progressive Democrat Lan Sena, who was appointed by Mayor Tim Keller to fill the vacancy on the counsel the result of the death of Ken Sanchez, lost her bid for a full term to conservative Democrat Louis Sanchez.
The councilors and supporters of the PSA ordinance argued that it will enhance transparency and ensure that a properly trained and compensated workforce builds city facilities. Not at all surprising local construction industry representatives called the ordinance “unfair and anti-competitive” and questioning why there has not more public discussion.
Outgoing Democrat City Councilor Cynthia Borrego had this to say in a written statement:
“[The ordinance commits the city] … to project labor from NM Building and Construction Trades Council — New Mexico labor. It will ensure experienced and professional labor-qualified and certified workers build City projects and that the City constructs the highest quality infrastructure and projects.”
Carla Kugler, president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors’ New Mexico chapter, complained she only learned of the proposal a few weeks ago and had this to say:
“Something so controversial and something that has this much impact on the construction community should be worth investing a little time and thought in it. … [This ordinance is] a handout for organized labor forced upon our construction community and workforce. … [There is no need for PSA’s to ensure contractors pay workers properly] . … There is oversight [already on city projects] … The Department of Workforce Solutions oversees everybody’s pay — union and non-union.”
Kuger noted that more than 90% of the local industry’s worker pool is not currently part of a union.
Republican City Councilor Trudy Jones called the proposal “short-sighted” and said she felt it is unnecessarily pit unions against none union businesses and put it this way:
“I’m not opposed to unions. … I just believe that we shouldn’t interfere this way.”
EDITOR’S COMMENTARY: Yeah, right Councilor Trudy Jones, you are the only right wing Republican in the United States not opposed to unions.
Democtat Lan Sena took strong issue with the accusation that the ordinance was rushed saying similar legislation had been debated locally before and she stated:
“This isn’t anything new, especially since the county has participated in this as well. ”
Sena said she supports PLAs because they clearly outline the terms of each project, including worker pay and benefits and management rights, but also because the city would require each agreement to include an apprenticeship component, which she said will help boost the local workforce. Sena put it this way:
“PLAs provide stability, predictability and diversification of our local jobs and training a labor force. ”
Sena added the ordinance will not prevent non-union firms from winning jobs as long as they enter into the requisite PLA.
The Bernalillo County Commission passed a similar ordinance in 2020, though it has not yet applied the new requirement to any projects.
SUPPORT EXPRESSED IN CONTRUCTION INDUSTRY
Over the past 3 years fiscal years, the city had 6 major projects that would have met the requirements for a PLA now required by the new ordinance.
Troy Beall, CEO of B&D Industries, a local electrical/mechanical contractor said he supports PLAs. According to Beall, his firm currently employs upwards of about 700 union members. Beall believes a union workforce is better trained. Beall reported that his firm was called in as a subcontractor to help finish an over-budget and delayed Albuquerque International Sunport renovation a few years ago after the first electrical subcontractor walked off the job.
“I have a 40-year history in this community, and I don’t know of a job that’s ever failed [under a collective bargaining agreement]. It’s because we agree to a contract with individuals for our employees. … The union has been very good for our corporation.”
A link to quoted source material is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Mandating Project Labor Agreements (PLA’s) on city construction projects has always been controversial in Albuquerque. History and experience show it is a mandate that is long overdue and that has been prevented primarily because of Republican Mayor and Republican City Council opposition stoked by the Republican right wing leaning business community.
Former conservative and Republican Mayor Richard Berry was elected to serve two terms from 2009 until 2013. Berry was a construction contractor and developer in Albuquerque and was known to oppose anything and everything associated with unions and he actively supported for and lobbied for right to work legislation. During his entire 8 years as Mayor, Berry was at impasse with virtually all 7 of the city hall unions and their collective bargaining contract, especially the police union. During his first term in office (2009 to 2013) Berry unilaterally ordered the suspension of negotiated union contracts and refused to pay negotiated pay increases agreed to by his predecessor Mayor Martin Chavez. Berry even ordered pay cuts to forestall increasing taxes to deal with a deficit.
It was no secret that Mayor Richard Berry was the darling of the real estate development community and “right to work proponents” with Berry even lobbying for right to work laws in Santa Fe. Berry was also known to object to PSA’s. The National Association Of Industrial Office Parks (NAIOP) and Republican leaning organizations such of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Forum and the New Mexico Business Coalition were big time supporters of Berry contributing thousands to his successful privately finance campaign for a second term in 2013 where he spent well over $1 Million to get elected to a second term in the lowest voter turnout in the city’s history. Berry won in a landslide with a 19% voter turnout.
In the 2013 Mayor’s race, PSA’s were made an issue, especially by NAIOP. During the NAIOP luncheon debate moderated by Albuquerque Journal Senior Editor Kent Waltz and attended by well over 300 people, Republicans Richard Berry and Paul Heh and Democrat Pete Dinelli were all asked their positions on PSA’s. Berry and Heh both said they were opposed, while Pete Dinelli said he agreed they were necessary. Dinelli pointed out that for any Mayor to be successful they must work with the city unions. Dinelli was literally booed by half of the audience watching, including Berry’s Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry. Dinelli came very close to telling NAIOP to go screw themselves and walking out of the debate but he showed great restraint and stayed anyway to make a point. Restraint is not required of a person who is fully retired, free to think, say and do what they want, so to NAIOP, it’s a delight and a real treat to watch NAIOP membership to deal with project labor agreements before they can suck on the government tit and be paid with taxpayer money for government construction contract work.
VILIFYING GOVERNMENT WITH YOUR HAND OUT
It is always amazing how real estate developers and construction firms and organizations such as NAIOP and Republicans are so resistant to any and all government rules, and regulations such as building codes, electrical codes, plumbing codes and minimum construction standards proclaiming government overreach. To them, its irrelevant that building electrical, plumbing and safety codes protect the public health, safety, and welfare and taxpayer dollars. Organizations such of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Forum and the New Mexico Business Coalition and NAIOP never cease with their vilification of unions and government regulations proclaiming it interferes with their ability to compete and make a living and drives up their costs to do business and lowers profits. What is also interesting is that NAIOP membership are always first in line with their hands out to bid on city government contracts wanting multimillion dollar construction contracts, such as the $120 million ART Bus project, yet they vilify government.
LEGITIMATE REASONS FOR CITY PSA’S
Simply put, PSA’s are necessary in City government construction contracts for any number of legitimate reasons. Those reasons include:
1. The PSA’s mandate uniform wages, benefits, overtime pay, hours, working conditions, and work rules for work on major city construction projects
2. The PSA’s mandate that contractors on city construction projects have reliable and uninterrupted supply of qualified workers at predictable costs;
3. The PSA’s ensure that a government construction project will be completed on time and on budget
4. The PSA’s will ensure no labor strife by prohibiting strikes and lockouts and including binding procedures to resolve labor disputes;
5. PSA’s in projects over $10 million as mandated by the ordinance will make it easier to manage by placing unions under one contract, the PLA, rather than dealing with several unions that may have different wage and benefit structures;
6. The PSA ordinance includes provisions to recruit and train workers by requiring contactors to participate in recruitment, apprenticeship, and training programs for women, minorities, veterans, and other under-represented groups
7. The PSA reduces misclassification of workers and the related underpayment of payroll taxes and workers compensation.
8. The PSA ordinance will translate into a larger percentage of construction wages staying in the city and state.
9. The PSA will improve worker safety by requiring contractors and workers to comply with project safety rules.
10. The PSA requirement for city government construction projects will have a positive long-term economic benefit for the local and construction industry as a whole.
Mayor Tim Keller is strongly urged to sign the resolution as soon as possible.