Placing Project Labor Agreements mandate
upon Everett's big projects generates debate
EVERETT — Union tradespeople are urging the Everett City Council to cement a new requirement to establish upfront labor agreements on any major city project.
A proposal set for a vote Dec. 7 would require a project labor agreement for big projects. Such agreements use collective bargaining to structure set wages for workers as well as safety regulations.
A competing, alternative rule introduced at council does not mandate a project labor agreement on big projects, but instead requires public works staff to evaluate if a project labor agreement should be used. This is being fast-tracked through council for a vote the same night on Dec. 7.
In both, the trigger threshold is any city project of $5 million or more starting on Jan. 1, 2023; after 2025, the threshold would lower to $3 million.
City Councilwomen Liz Vogeli and Mary Fosse have been preparing the mandate rule with union leaders for the past year.
City public works director Ryan Sass said that his department recommends the council take no vote now, and allow staff a window of time to work with the request.
One reason is because if either ordinance is approved, it takes effect Jan. 1 on all big city projects, including ones nearly at the bidding stage, Sass said.
Mayor Cassie Franklin said last month that the city administration is not opposed to project labor agreements.
The public works department’s perspective is that mandating project labor agreements, which involve collective bargaining, does not give the department enough flexibility to build projects on short timeframes. It also may be ineffective to negotiate a project labor agreement if labor won’t be heavily needed for the project.
Fosse contended that the city can plan ahead on projects within the framework of having project labor agreements to avoid causing project timelines to slip.
Stacy Martin, the business manager of Local 292 laborers’ union, said crews working under project labor agreements would not go on strike because these agreements set up protocols for disputes.
At the Nov. 16 meeting, contractors spoke against a mandate.
“Your field of contractors is going to shrink dramatically,” said Kyle Gephardt, Operations Manager for Strider Construction, a merit shop that he said provides prevailing wage. Gephardt said just 15% of contractors in the state are unionized.
Union representatives and workers representing laborers, electricians, ironworkers, machinists, carpenters and Starbucks, in solidarity, filled the room Nov. 30.
Electrician union political director John Traynor said the rule would be “a perfect way for this city to demonstrate its willingness to support workers in this community by investing our money in this community and its workers.”
Some union representatives said the $5 million mandate poses little burden.
The Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and Associated General Contractors (AGC) industry trade groups have stated opposition to the mandate as well.
Project labor agreements causes open shop contractors to not bid on contracts, said Sophia Steele, ABC’s Director of Government Affairs, and costs non-union contractors extra money by being double-billed for benefits.
A smaller pool of bidders results in increased final project bids of between 12% to 25% higher, a representative from AGC asserted.
Governments typically award projects to the lowest qualified bidder.
A representative for IMCO Construction, a non-union shop which has built many projects for Everett, said Nov. 16 that the company would back away from bidding if the mandate is approved.
In the alternate rule to the mandate, it adjusts the city’s clause about apprentices, who are learning the trades at lower wage levels, to add more onto a job. It sets a new minimum that 15 percent of workers are apprentices.
Martin, the laborer’s Local 292 business manager, said his research shows the city in the past hasn’t met its apprenticeship minimum percentages in its own rulebook.
Separately, President Joe Biden set an executive order to use project labor agreements on all projects commissioned by the federal government above $35 million.
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