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Westmoreland commissioners scrap project labor deal

Rich Cholodofsky
| Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 5:26 a.m.

Westmoreland County's Republican commissioners on Monday rescinded a labor agreement they said favored union contractors in the bidding process for county construction projects.

To fulfill a promise made during last year's election campaign, commissioners Charles Anderson and Tyler Courtney reversed the 2009 vote by the former Democratic majority board of commissioners who approved the controversial project labor agreement.

"All we want to do is level the playing field. The project labor agreement was pro-union and anti-small business," Anderson said.

The vote was the only general business conducted as the new board of commissioners formally reorganized under the first GOP majority in more than 56 years.

Anderson was elected chairman of the new board and will earn an additional $2,700 for that job, bringing his annual salary to $76,407.

Courtney was named board vice chairman, and Democrat Ted Kopas will serve as secretary. Kopas voted against the reorganization plan.

During last fall's campaign for commissioner, Anderson and Courtney pledged to rescind the labor agreement immediately upon taking office. The agreement, however, will remain in effect until it expires in September.

As originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Region Building and Construction Trades Council, the agreement affected all building projects in excess of $150,000. It required contractors to have specific certifications and mandated they ensure there would be no labor stoppages during construction of the project.

Opponents said the agreement prohibited nonunion shops from bidding on county contracts.

Vincent Fontana Jr., owner of Vince Building Co. in Greensburg, said yesterday that he was unable to bid last year on the construction of a district justice office in Export because of the labor agreement. The Export building was the lone project affected by the labor agreement.

"I did other projects before, but I couldn't bid on the Export project. When you open up more projects to bidding, there is more competition, and it lowers the cost," Fontana said.

Eileen Watt, president of the Association of Builders and Contractors of Western Pennsylvania, issued a statement praising the decision to rescind the project labor agreement.

"PLAs not only cut out competition, but discriminate against women and minority workers as well. That is unacceptable for the taxpayers of Westmoreland County," Watt said.

Anderson said any construction project approved by the county until September will still fall under the labor agreement requirements.

Kopas, who helped to draft the original labor agreement when he worked as chief of staff to former Commissioner Tom Balya, voted against terminating the pact.

"It's proven that it worked. The one project under the PLA came in under budget and on time. We have the proof. Unfortunately, they didn't have an opportunity to meet with the labor council and the dozens of contractors that signed off on the agreement," Kopas said.

Rich Stanizzo, president of the Pittsburgh Building Trades Council, could not be reached for comment.

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