Cooke, state at odds over wages for stadium construction project Administration will insist that Redskin owner pay prevailing salary rate

June 12, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Jack Kent Cooke and the Glendening administration are in apparent disagreement over whether the Washington Redskins' owner must pay prevailing wages for the state-funded portions of his stadium construction project in Prince George's County.

The administration and Cooke are in the process of negotiating the final terms of an agreement under which the state will provide $70.5 million to build the infrastructure for the Redskins football stadium scheduled to open next year.

Backed by organized labor, the administration says it will insist on a provision requiring that Cooke pay workers at rates equivalent to the prevailing federal or state wage. But a Redskins spokesman said the company is not legally required to do so.

"It's our understanding that the prevailing wage is not required by a plain reading of the statute," said Gerard E. Evans, the Redskins' chief lobbyist in Annapolis.

However, spokesmen for both the state and Cooke insist that what appears to be a disagreement is actually part of a normal negotiation process and will not jeopardize the stadium plans.

Evans predicted the issue is "just going to go away."

"We're in partnership with the state on this thing. This is kind of a pimple on an elephant's rear end. We've got to move this thing ahead," he added.

Chuck Porcari, spokesman for the Department of Business and Economic Development, also minimized the depth of the disagreement, saying the issue was not a sticking point in the negotiations.

Porcari said the language requiring the prevailing wage has been in each draft agreement the state has submitted to Cooke. The spokesman added that the provision represented the state's long-standing policy and that he did not expect it to change.

He said Cooke has yet to receive the state's contribution to the stadium project. "There can be no allocation of funds without a signed agreement," Porcari said.

The state has long had a prevailing wage law similar to the federal Davis-Bacon Act, which requires that companies working on government projects pay a wage rate that usually is comparable to union scale.

The issue crept into the Redskins stadium project because during the waning days of this year's General Assembly session, Cooke sought an exemption from the state's procurement law for the parts of the project that are being financed by the state but managed by his construction company. That part, accounting for $30 million of the state's $70.5 million contribution, involves on-site infrastructure improvements such as parking lots.

Both sides said the primary reason for seeking the exemption was to prevent the project from becoming bogged down in the red tape of state's bidding and appeals processes. Cooke is pushing to open the stadium, which he is building with at least $170 million of his money, by August -- an ambitious schedule that leaves little room for delay.

State Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said the General Assembly wanted to make sure the state was not responsible for cost overruns because of the timetable. She emphasized that under its agreement with Cooke, the state is not responsible for any such overruns on the project.

Hoffman said union officials pointed out on the last day of the General Assembly session that the measure also would exempt Cooke from the prevailing-wage sections of the procurement law.

Hoffman said that she never intended to make trouble for labor but that it was too late to change the legislation.

She said Evans and other Redskins representatives agreed to meet with union representatives to assuage their concerns. "I can't say everybody was thrilled, but we made sure the unions' voices were heard," she said.

In effect, Gov. Parris N. Glendening is trying to use the grant agreement to reimpose a requirement it never intended to waive, Porcari said.

William S. Ratchford, who as director of the Department of Fiscal Services is the General Assembly's chief watchdog, said the administration was acting within its discretion.

"The law in a sense said that [Cooke] wouldn't have to pay the prevailing wage, but I don't think it would prevent the administration and the Redskins from agreeing to do it," he said.

Pub Date: 6/12/96

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