Union work rules prevail

State reaches labor pact on replacing the Wilson bridge

Unfair, contractors say

January 06, 2001|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

After months of contention, the Glendening administration reached an agreement with Maryland-area building trade unions yesterday on imposing pro-union work rules on the $2.2 billion Woodrow Wilson bridge replacement project.

Contractor groups had opposed the administration's decision to negotiate what is known as a "project labor agreement," or PLA, for the job. Replacing the bridge across the Potomac River from Oxon Hill to Alexandria, Va., is one of the largest construction projects in Maryland history.

The contractor groups say that the agreement is unfair to nonunion contractors and will drive up costs because many of those contractors will refuse to bid on the work if the PLA requires them to follow union work rules.

Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari defended the agreement, describing it as a "compromise that best serves the citizens of Maryland and the region."

M. Kirk Pickerel, executive vice president of Associated Builders and Contractors in Washington, criticized the agreement, describing as a "sham" Glendening administration claims that the agreement will allow for open competition on the project.

Pickerel said the requirements of the PLA will keep many nonunion contractors from bidding and predicted it will drive up construction costs by more than $150 million. "It's disappointing that the Glendening administration is opposed to open competition and free enterprise," Pickerel said.

Porcari insisted that's not the case. The agreement prohibits strikes, provides for a stable work force and sets clear work rules during the scheduled six years of construction, he said. "It's important to keep our eye on the ultimate goal:building a replacement for the Wilson Bridge on schedule so we can eliminate one of the worst bottlenecks in the region's transportation network," he said.

"These were extremely difficult and intense negotiations," Porcari said. "Nobody got everything they wanted, but the final product is something we believe is fair to everybody."

The agreement was negotiated by state consultants and representatives of building trade unions. Contractor groups from the area were not represented in the talks.

Edward Sullivan, who heads the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department, said the PLA is a good deal for taxpayers and workers.

He also said the agreement brings stability to the project by standardizing the work week, overtime, shift provisions and holidays for all workers, nonunion as well as union. "We ... appreciate Governor Glendening's continued support for working families and our unions," he said.

Maurice Baskin, a lawyer for ABC, the contractor group, disputed Porcari's description of the agreement as a reasonable compromise. "It appears to have many of the worst elements of a union-only project labor agreement," Baskin said. "I see hardly any evidence of compromise."

He and Pickerel said that under the terms of the PLA, workers cannot participate in the project unless they "accept unwanted union representation."

Both claimed the deal the state struck violated agreements Maryland had made with Congress and Virginia, which is a partner in the bridge project.

Baskin said opponents of the PLA could file a lawsuit to try to prevent its implementation.

State Senate minority leader Martin G. Madden said the agreement would have harmful consequences long after Glendening's term in office. "It's obvious that this is another step toward Governor Glendening's agenda to bring about the complete unionization of Maryland," the Howard County Republican said.

Under an agreement with the Federal Highway Administration and Virginia, Maryland is responsible for securing the contracts required to build the bridge. The states are responsible for building interchanges within their borders.

The PLA governs construction of the bridge and most of the I-295 interchange in Maryland.

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