Unions, construction lobby wage war over D.C. Council bill
At the John A. Wilson Building, a little-noticed but highly contentious war between labor unions and construction business is playing out on Wednesday in a packed council hearing, with the upcoming city elections as a backdrop.
The battle has been prompted by a bill introduced in February by D.C. Council members Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) and Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) that would essentially require union labor on all construction projects receiving more than $200,000 in city assistance and further require that contractors hire certain numbers of District residents.
Needless to say, these "project labor agreements" have the strong support of local labor leaders, and unions are pushing hard for the bill. But construction and business interests are deeply opposed to the legislation. The trade group Associated Builders and Contractors has devoted a Web site to opposing PLAs across the country, and the group also released a study in March claiming that a PLA mandate would "likely to have a destabilizing impact on an already depressed industry ... leading to reduced employment of local residents and considerable harm to small and disadvantaged businesses."
Brown's bill, which attracted a crowd so large to Wednesday's hearing that some spectators had to be sent to an overflow room, is no doubt an election-year issue. In February, a key union organizer called the bill "the No. 1 priority for labor in 2010," adding, "We're judging everybody based on where they come down on this bill."
So far, it's not clear that the litmus-testing is going to get the unions what they want. The local AFL-CIO Metro Council asked council candidates about the bill on its candidate questionnaires. Among incumbents, Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) pledged to supported to the measure, but some usually reliable union backers have hedged their bets.
"I can't say YES at this time because I want to hear the testimony at the hearing," Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) wrote on his questionnaire. Wrote Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), who chairs one of the two committees that would have to move on the legislation: "I believe that this bill requires careful consideration and is best done away from the heat of campaigns."
And Council member Kwame Brown (D-At Large), usually a stalwart supporter of union interests, declined to say he'd support the bill at all. "I support the concept of the legislation but the issue needs further study," he wrote.
File photo by Lois Raimondo/The Washington Post
June 30, 2010; 1:36 PM ET
Categories: The District
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