Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Commissioners approve PLAs while cutting positions

You wouldn't know it from the coverage in the paper, but yesterday the Lucas County Commissioners voted unanimously to increase the costs of all projects they undertake.

They did so by approving a new policy requiring project labor agreements for all construction projects valued at $25,000 or greater. The resolution setting the new policy calls for the county to negotiate an agreement with the Northwest Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council (and/or its affiliates) and for all bidders on county projects to include a provision in the bid requiring the successful bidder - and all their contractors and subcontractors - to adhere to the PLA negotiated by the county for that specific project.

So the county is going to negotiate terms of employment for the companies who win the bids???? Government isn't just dictating such things as minimum wage and safety provisions, now they're actively colluding with unions to force unionization upon their citizens. That's what PLAs do - they require union dues to be paid by workers for the duration of the project. They also traditionally require companies to contribute to union health care and pension funds during the duration of the project, even though the non-union employees of the company will never see any of those funds because they're 'members' of the union only during the project.

But the Commissioners don't stop with just the successful bidder. They apply this forced unionization to every other party the bidder wants to use!

How much extra do you think this is going to cost taxpayers???

At the same meeting where they passed this increased cost, they eliminated six management positions in an effort to balance their budget for next year.

Stuck on stupid? Insanity? Payback to unions? You decide - my head hurts thinking about it.

There are two strange parts about the passage of this policy:

1) the 'statutory authority' cited on the resolution, and

2) the absence of Blade coverage of the action in light of their past position on this very same policy.

The 'statutory authority' citation appears on each resolution presented to the Board of County Commissioners. This came about because as a commissioner I constantly asked where, in the Ohio Revised Code, we had the authority to do many of the things that were being presented to us. I wanted the statutory authority clearly cited on the resolutions.

If the staff or sponsoring commissioner couldn't find any authority in the code, I voted against the resolution. Commissioners and county government are creatures of state statute. Without specific authority to address an issue, they cannot act. This is a long-established legal precedent in Ohio.

The statutory authority reference for this new PLA policy is listed as ORC 305.30. Interestingly, this relatively short section of the ORC details the powers and duties of the county administrator.

I suppose that since they're making the county administrator the person responsible for entering into the labor contract, there is a bit of relevance to the resolution. But they don't address where they have the authority to require a PLA in the first place. They only reference their authority to direct the county administrator, not where the authority to implement a PLA comes from.

This is certainly a stretch. Just because you direct the county administrator to perform a task, it doesn't mean you have the authority to order the task. But if no one is checking, the Commissioners get away with such 'illogic' in their actions.

They do state, in the summary of the resolution, that PLAs are legal under federal and Ohio law, though they give no evidence to support that statement. I guess the commissioners all missed the recent news that the federal government yanked a project in New Hampshire due to problems with the PLA requirement.

Another oddity is the change in the language of the resolution. The first one that was introduced included an actual contract - with the terms of the project labor agreement spelled out in detail. This current approved resolution only has three provisions attached (as you can see in the link to the document). I believe this was done to give the commissioners coverage for actual terms of the agreements - leaving it up to the county administrator to negotiate.

Here's a question for you: how often do you think the final terms of the PLAs will differ from the union-written contract language that was included in the first resolution?

The second issue is the lack of media coverage. This is a huge cost increase to taxpayers and an economic development/business killer. At a time when the county is trying to cut costs to balance their budget and everyone is talking about how we attract businesses to the area, how does this help? It doesn't - but with the main stream media in the area ignoring the issue, most residents are blissfully unaware.

This same proposal to implement PLAs was tried - and failed - in 1996. At the time, the editors called it payback to the unions for their support - and blasted the policy as contrary to a economic development efforts.

(click for larger view)

A search of 'project labor agreement' on the websites of The Blade, the Toledo Free Press and the four television stations showed no articles on the subject. So why no news coverage of an issue that will increase the cost of county construction projects at a time that the county has no money?

Is this a testament of the power of the unions? Or a reflection on the media in the area? I don't know...

But I do know that this is 'not business friendly,' not budget friendly, not taxpayer friendly and an all-around really bad idea.

The question, now, is whether or not, like in 1997, the policy will be repealed. But with the lack of attention to the issue, I expect not.

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