Union laborers would be first in line for city projects under new bill

Bill encourages training, hiring of Baltimoreans

March 08, 2010|By Julie Scharper | julie.scharper@baltsun.com

Baltimore would require contractors doing business with the city to give preference to local union employees under a proposal by a city councilman.

The measure is intended to decrease Baltimore's unemployment rate by providing training and jobs to city residents, said Councilman Bill Henry, who plans to introduce the bill at tonight's council meeting. It would apply to city-financed or -funded projects.

"My goal is to get more Baltimoreans employed," Henry said. "A lot of the problems we have in Baltimore would be alleviated if more people had non-black market employment. There are a lot of people right now who are not on the up and up - but not by choice."

Under the measure, labor groups would be required to "exert their best efforts" to recruit city residents into union apprenticeship programs and hiring halls.

The new law would ensure that when "the city is financing a major development project that those wages actually go back to the community," said Jayson T. Williams, legislative director for the local chapter of the Laborers International Union of North America. Henry is introducing the bill at the union's request.

Companies entering contracts worth more than $5 million with the city would be required to first seek workers from local union halls, and only open the hiring pool to others after two business days, according to the bill.

But the head of the state's powerful contractors group said the law could prove disastrous to small businesses.

"It would put us out of business," said Pless B. Jones, owner of P&J Contracting and president of the Maryland Minority Contractor Association. "Eighty-five percent [of area] contractors are nonunion."

The bill is a thinly veiled power grab by the unions, he said.

Mike Henderson, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors lobbying group, said the measure could have the opposite effect, forcing the city to grant contracts to union contractors from the surrounding counties and states.

"It's a terrible idea in every conceivable way," Henderson said, adding that the bill would drive up construction costs. "It's discriminatory, inflationary and with no possible societal benefit."

Henry has offered to facilitate a meeting to discuss the issue with both sides. The council's labor subcommittee will hold hearings on the bill before it can be presented to the full council for a vote.

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