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Allegheny County Council mulls ban on project labor deals

| Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 12:09 a.m.

Allegheny County Council is considering a proposal to ban project labor agreements for businesses bidding on county contracts.

Councilman Matt Drozd, R-Ross, introduced the plan at Tuesday's council meeting, saying PLAs discriminate against nonunion businesses and drive up costs to taxpayers.

“I'm not anti-union, but let's level the playing field,” he said. “It costs the taxpayers more than they should pay for projects.”

Such union agreements guarantee healthy wages and benefits, usually in exchange for assurances that workers won't go on strike if there's a labor dispute. Critics say the deals provide a means for politicians to repay unions for political campaign support.

Council President Charles Martoni referred the plan to a committee for discussion.

Tension over the use of project labor agreements in county projects is not new. The Associated Builders of Western Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit in 2010 seeking to halt bidding on construction of Community College of Allegheny County's $21.5 million K. Leroy Irvis Science Center, claiming the inclusion of a PLA required the use of mostly union labor. An Allegheny County judge rejected the claims in 2011.

Frank Sirianni, president of the Pennsylvania State Building and Construction Trades Council, disputed that PLAs drive up costs or limit competition.

“It requires qualified contractors. The beauty of a PLA is that it outlines the general construction process, sets hours, standards. It's a tool to be used,” Sirianni said. “It also sets benchmarks and guarantees local workers. PLAs are open to all contractors.”

Eileen Watt, president of the Associated Builders of Western Pennsylvania, said she supported Drozd's move and that PLAs cut out competition.

“Nonunion contractors are taxpayers as well. They should not be eliminated from the bidding process,” she said.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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