Contractors protest Baltimore labor bill

They say requiring union wages, benefits would force them to close

March 23, 2010|By Nick Madigan | nick.madigan@baltsun.com

The blaring horns of a dozen construction trucks echoed off the facade of City Hall and surrounding buildings Monday, a cacophonous protest against a jobs bill that opponents claim could put small contractors out of business.

The bill, introduced at Monday evening's Baltimore City Council meeting, would require city building projects worth $5 million or more to pay prevailing wages and benefits and to give hiring preference to workers in city union halls.

Opponents say its intent is to force smaller businesses to unionize, which they insist they cannot afford.

"If this bill goes through, we would not be able to work," said Pless B. Jones Sr., president of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association, who heads a general contracting company in Baltimore with 75 employees. "It'll cost everybody more just to subsidize the unions, and I don't think that's right."

Another local contractor, Kisha Morsley of K-1 Improvements, a company she founded six months ago and which employs five workers, said that if the bill were to pass, "We'd have to shut our doors."

"They're trying to stop small, minority business owners like myself from getting county and state contracts, and are giving them all to the union workers," she said. "We're already struggling."

But supporters of the bill, dozens of whom staged a rally outside City Hall just before the opponents' trucks began their own noisy protest, said it would mean a bounty of opportunity.

"Our goal is to change this into a movement to put people back to work in Baltimore City," said Jayson T. Williams, director of the Get Baltimore Working campaign and a legislative director for the Laborers International Union of North America.

"This bill requires that contractors partner with local unions to find local labor for their jobs, as opposed to having contractors bring in workers from out of state," Williams said.

Dennis L. Martire, vice president of the Laborers International Union's Mid-Atlantic region, said that under the bill, anyone can sign up to be in the labor pool of a project, whether he or she is a union member or not.

"Preference will be given to the ones who live in the city," Martire said. "They go to the top of the list."

Kevin Cosby, who described himself as a minority contractor with Local 24 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said the bill is "good for us."

"It would not hurt even nonunion labor," Cosby said. "It makes it an even playing field for everyone."

An earlier version of this article misidentified the union to which Kevin Cosby belongs. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

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