Topic 12: Freeholders shun union-only bidding proposal

Debate Question: Is the stance of Warren's freeholders ethical?

Source: The Express-Times

Freeholders shun union-only bidding proposal
By KATHERINE BLOK
The Express-Times
04/26/02

Contrary to the opinion of the governor and local labor leaders, Warren County freeholders are opposing a measure that would allow public entities to negotiate only with contractors using unionized labor.

One Republican freeholder called the measure "un-American," while the minority Democratic freeholder said the initiative ensures quality work.

The freeholder board voted 2-1 Wednesday to oppose a bill pending in the state Legislature that would allow public entities to accept bids only from contractors who use unionized workers. Such agreements are often called "project labor agreements."

McGreevey signed an executive order in January permitting project labor agreements for state contracts. A bill allowing all public entities in the state to use project labor agreements is before the state Senate Labor Committee.

Local union leaders told freeholders Wednesday that such agreements will provide government with the best quality work and protect laborers. Robert Archer, a field representative for Laborers Local 593 in Warren, Hunterdon, Somerset and Morris counties, said the Pohatcong School and the municipal building in Alpha, both nonunion projects, are "pretty shoddy."

"You're better off having experienced journeymen doing work on the projects," Archer said.

Most union workers live in the area and have a vested interest in the community, said Andy Pacifico, the business agent for Carpenters Local 620 in Madison, N.J.

"We can get our members who live in the county to work on some of these job sites, versus a contractor coming in from out of state and working with their own people and not putting anything back into the revenue for the county," Pacifico said.

Project labor agreements mean there will be no jurisdictional disputes and "that you're going to have proper manpower doing the job," Pacifico said.

But Republican Michael Doherty, said project labor agreements are "un-American and anti-competitive."

Doherty, who also represents Warren and Hunterdon counties in the state Assembly, said the current system of open public bidding for government contracts "has served New Jersey well." Quality problems are caused when a public entity doesn't look out for its own best interests, he said.

Project labor agreements are "going to shut out about 80 percent of the businesses in New Jersey. I think that's a problem (because) many of these businesses are small businesses (and) minority- or women-owned," Doherty said. "I believe keeping the current system where we have public bidding is going to serve New Jersey well."

But project labor agreements still allow for public bidding, Freeholder James DeBosh said. The only difference is that the contractor must use union labor, he said.

"It's still a level playing field," DeBosh said. Project labor agreements "shouldn't be an affront to bidding laws."

James DeBosh, the lone Democrat on the three-member board, voted against the freeholders' resolution Wednesday. He said nonunion jobs could cost more when problems arise, like the jobs in Pohatcong and Alpha.

"In the long run, you get a better quality job for at least the same if not less (money than a nonunion job)," DeBosh said. "You know if you have a union contractor that the job's going to be safer. Employees have a little bit more protection."

Republican Freeholder John DiMaio did not return phone messages seeking comment Thursday.

According to a news release from the governor's office, "project labor agreements provide uniform terms and conditions regarding employment practices and therefore help to ensure that such projects are completed with the most highly skilled labor, thus ensuring lower costs over the lifetime of the project for repair and maintenance."

Last modified: Wed Sep 13 14:57:24 EDT 2000