CROWN POINT - A construction trade group is criticizing the possible use of organized labor in erecting a new Lake Champlain Bridge in Crown Point.
The Associated Builders and Contractors has charged that state and federal politicians along with representatives of organized labor are jeopardizing the "speedy and economical completion" of the bridge project by requiring a project labor agreement.
A project labor agreement, commonly known as a PLA, is an agreement between a state agency and the building and construction trade unions to establish work rules, pay rates and dispute resolution processes for one specific project.
The Associated Builders and Contractors claims a PLA will dive up costs and limit the use of local labor in the $75 million bridge replacement project.
The objections are premature, according to Carol Breen, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.
"NYSDOT is doing its due diligence to ensure fair wages are paid on the Lake Champlain Bridge construction project by performing a feasibility study to determine whether or not a project labor agreement is appropriate for the project," Breen said. "The study has been conducted by a consultant and we have provided that study to the Federal Highway Administration for their approval. We expect to have the matter resolved by the end of this month."
The Associated Builders and Contractors is arguing against a PLA. It issued a state-wide press release asking people to oppose any such agreement.
"Special interest PLAs result in increased costs and reduced competition," said Rebecca Meinking, president of the Empire State Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, in the release. "PLAs deny taxpayers the accountability in public works projects they deserve from government.
"We are disappointed that the New York Transportation Department, at the behest of Big Labor is considering use of a PLA on the Champlain Bridge project," said Meinking. "This area of New York State, Essex and Washington counties, and the State of Vermont are largely served by non-union contractors. More than 70 percent of the construction workforce in this area of New York and 95 percent of Vermont's construction workers do not belong to a construction labor union, according to government data. The use of a PLA will actually mean that the majority of local labor will be shut out of the opportunity to work on this bridge replacement project in a time when the unemployment rate in the construction industry is 24.7 percent nationwide and even higher in the areas where this bridge project is located."
The Associated Builders and Contractors is urging local residents to contact legislators to express their opposition to a bridge project PLA.
"Hard-working taxpayers who are tired of special interest politics and tired of government waste must hold their elected officials accountable, particularly Congressmen Scott Murphy and Bill Owens, as well as Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, who have pushed this special interest PLA behind closed doors," said Steve Fuller of Fuller Excavating in Keeseville.
"A PLA on the Champlain bridge project will guarantee that labor is imported from far away since there isn't enough local union labor to meet the ambitious time schedule on the bridge," said Ted Luck of Luck Brothers, Inc., a family-owned heavy highway contractor in Plattsburgh. "Proponents say they want to insure local labor is working on the bridge when exactly the opposite will occur. Why should my employees at Luck Brothers be denied the right to participate in this project just because they are nonunion?"
"Employees and their families lose under PLAs," said Jeff Luck, also of Luck Brothers, Inc. "Non-union employees are required by PLAs to pay dues to a union and their existing benefit contributions from their employers are funneled into union pension and benefit funds even though non-union employees will never receive any benefits as they aren't members of a union. A PLA is a big windfall for big labor, and they are the only beneficiaries of these kinds of agreements."