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Republicans blast Butler commissioners over labor agreement

| Saturday, May 3, 2014, 5:49 p.m.

Butler County commissioners are drawing fire from critics who say they kept non-union companies from bidding to construct a $12.1 million annex to the county office building.

At issue is a labor agreement the commissioners approved with Butler-Venango County Building Trades Council, a regional union coalition.

“The (agreement) to govern the completion of the Butler County government center annex project is a bad mandate for the taxpayers of Butler County and the 76 percent of Pennsylvania's construction workforce that chooses not to join a union when given the freedom to do so,” the Butler County Republican Committee wrote in a letter last week to commissioners.

“We are puzzled as to why you have turned a blind eye to this reality and, instead, have chosen to act as de facto business agents for the unions to be associated with the government center project.”

Commissioner Chairman William McCarrier, a Republican, said non-union companies were welcome to bid, though he did not know if any did so.

He and A. Dale Pinkerton voted on Wednesday to award contracts to five companies, all union-affiliated.

Democratic Commissioner Jim Eckstein voted against the contracts. He'd pushed for the county to buy an existing building nearby and renovate it.

The labor agreement says that companies on the project who need workers will hire through local union halls. All three commissioners approved it in March.

County officials said similar agreements covered construction of the Butler County Prison and expansion at Butler Hospital.

County officials said the bids, which included the cost for work on the roof of the courthouse and government center and heating and cooling equipment, came in about $2 million lower than expected.

The roofs are expected to be done this summer.

The annex construction is scheduled to take 14 to 18 months once ground is broken. A groundbreaking date hasn't been set.

McCarrier said the agreement levels the playing field for all companies on the project and should help keep cost overruns down.

It also provides a guarantee that there will be no work stoppage.

“This will guarantee everybody is working together,” McCarrier said. “This is making sure that the work is coordinated.”

In 2012, Westmoreland County commissioners rescinded a similar labor agreement, saying it unfairly favored union contractors in the bidding process.

Several non-union companies stayed away from the bidding because of the agreement, said Andy Conlin, director of state and local affairs at Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. in Washington.

Conlin said studies show that labor agreements can boost the price of building projects by at least 20 percent.

“At the end of the day, the taxpayers of Butler County deserve the best construction at the best price,” he said.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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