Galef Looks to Project Labor Agreements as Possible Money Savers

For Immediate Release Contact: Sandy Galef

(518) 455-5348

(914) 941-1111

Assemblywoman Galef Continues to Investigate Ways to Save Money for Taxpayers

Galef held roundtable discussion on Project Labor
Agreements to evaluate them as
a tool for saving on capital projects

(May 21, 2013) On Wednesday, May 15th, Assemblywoman Sandy Galef hosted a forum to discuss Project Labor Agreements and how they may offer money saving opportunities for capital projects.

“While I am still not sure that we have found the answer to our problems surrounding the Wicks Law in Project Labor Agreements, I believe that they are a potential means to making sure taxpayer money is spent in the most effective way possible. As long as the outdated Wicks Law is in place, and my colleagues do not favor reforming or overturning it, I think PLAs may present an alternative that is not perfect, but may be better than working within Wicks restrictions. I hope that this roundtable on Public Labor Agreements was as informative for local governments and schools as it was for me,” said Assemblywomen Galef.

Galef invited schools boards and school superintendents, municipal and county officials, as well as her constituents to come hear what people in labor and industry and school boards have to say about Project Labor Agreements. There was not agreement at the table that PLAs were in fact a discussion that should happen in the context of the Wicks law. Some are still not satisfied that PLAs can include non-union labor, although others said it could.

Capital Projects make up a significant portion of local budgets and the cost of labor represents a sizable portion of capital project expenditures. Therefore, any way to reduce labor costs would help reduce the amount of funds expended on a given project. Under current statute, Wicks Law requires that subcontractors for each component of a project (i.e.: plumbing, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and electrical) must submit bids for separate contracts, for any construction project over $1.5 million in some of the larger counties, and much less for smaller counties. Many have complained that differing terms from contract to contract on the same project cause problems including work stoppages that lead to increased costs. Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) are pre-hire collective bargaining contracts in which the entity looking to hire a contractor establishes the same working conditions for all workers on the project and allows a project to then be exempt from Wicks. PLAs have been suggested as a means to reduce labor costs.

Assemblywomen Galef’s moderated discussion included six panelists heavily involved in the planning and execution of New York State capital projects who were very familiar with Project Labor Agreements. These panelists included Kelly Macmillan the Director of Public Infrastructure Projects for the Empire State Development Corporation and the Tappan Zee Bridge Replacement Project, and Ted Nadratowski, the NYS Thruway Authority’s Interim Project Manager for the Tappan Zee Project. Nadratowski explained that New York State was projected to save at least $452 million due to a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) negotiated for the Tappan Zee Bridge Replacement. This PLA ensured that there would not be work stoppages for the duration of the project and it allowed staggered work times which eliminated the need for costly overtime pay, among other provisions.

Ross Pepe the President of the Construction Industry Council of Westchester and the Hudson Valley, echoed support of PLAs because of their ability to provide jobs for local workers, a requirement that can be built into a PLA. Further, Pepe explained how the uniformed terms and conditions established prior to the beginning of the project being bid allow for more ideal conditions for workers, worker efficiency and maximum productivity.

Michael Elemendorf, President and CEO of Associated General Contractors NYS LLC, however questioned the value of PLAs because he viewed their policy of establishing a rate prior to the acceptance of contractors’ bids as a means to prevent open competition. Additionally, he believed that PLAs did not allow contractors who hire non-union labor the same opportunities to jobs with a PLA as strict union shops would have.

Edward Doyle the President of the Building & Trades Council of Westchester and Putnam found that in his experience, using PLAs for school district capital improvements has been beneficial, and evidence can be found in the success of implemented PLAs in Mount Vernon, Pleasantville, Bronxville and New Rochelle.

Michael Fox who is a Senior Legislative Policy Analyst for the New York State School Boards Association believes that while PLAs can be effective they are not necessarily the answer in every situation, and are particularly tricky in more rural areas of the state.

“While not everyone can agree that Wicks serves a purpose, or that Project Labor Agreements are a way to offer protections from Wicks while still keeping jobs competitive, there may be opportunities where Project Labor Agreements can help to make capital projects more efficient,” said Galef. “At least, until we can make some progress on Wicks, I think municipalities and school districts should explore the use of a project labor agreement early on in the project to see if it could yield efficiencies and savings. I intend to continue to push for Wicks reform, but until then, I suggest PLAs might help,” she concluded.

Bazzo 05/22/13

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