“With a dozen or so cars parked outside Rogers Middle School being the norm for an Affton School Board meeting, there clearly had to be something going on Sept. 20 when the lot showed scarcely a vacant slot.
The answer: The rank and file of area construction unions were there to root on the board’s tentative decision to ink a project labor agreement (PLA) for construction of an early childhood center, while non-union contractors wanted to ensure they wouldn’t be shunned without their side being heard.
The Affton Early Childhood Center, approved earlier this year, represents more than $2 million the board is apparently ready to place in the hands of unionized tradesmen, confident the move will ensure skilled local labor, minimize the possibility of work stoppages, maximize safety and bring the project to a timely completion.
The project entails the conversion of an old sheet-metal shop at 9832 Reavis Road into seven classrooms, a project classroom, facilities for staff including a nurse, cooking and dining areas, and playgrounds.
District Business Manager John Brazeal said if the agreement is finalized within 30 days, it will be the first time the Affton School District has entered into an agreement that involves union-only labor.
But more than half of the speakers at the Sept. 20 public hearing argued that shutting out non-union contractors did not seem to be a good or fair proposition.
James Knowles III, area director for the Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC), said he took exception to the proposed PLA’s suggestion that prevailing wage and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issues would be better handled by a union agreement.
“If you go with only union, are you guaranteed not to have any problems? Absolutely not,” he said.
Jim Kistler, ABC president, told the board a decision to enter into a PLA shuts out 75 percent of the contractors in the area and – according to a study he cited – adds 12 to 20 percent to the overall project cost.
Kevin Johnson, a member of the Hancock Board of Education, said his district has used PLAs on six projects since 2007 “and it has worked smoothly. It’s worked well for us.”
James Faul, an attorney representing local unions, said a PLA would ensure “the best trained workers from the St. Louis area. Our unions police themselves, and union contractors know what their roles are going to be on any project.”
Paul Munch, owner of St. Louis Paving – a non-union contractor – named a number of high profile jobs his firm has completed in the past decade or so.
“But this PLA would prevent us from competing for this work,” he said.
Munch said the idea of a PLA preventing work disruptions is absurd “because it’s the unions that cause the disruptions. A vote for this PLA is supporting the inefficiencies of union work rules that cause problems.”
“The goal of tonight’s hearing was to continue the discovery process and gather additional information,” said Building and Budget Committee Chairman Tom Bellavia. He said the board will be following up and making a decision on the PLA sometime in October.”
Printed in the South County Times on September 23, 2011
Article by Joe Leicht