Trade group could file suit over Penn Hills school deal

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Trade group could file suit over Penn Hills school deal

Post  HopefulInPh on Fri Sep 03, 2010 1:23 pm

By Tony LaRussa

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A local trade group is considering suing the Penn Hills School District for requiring that the contractor selected for its $130 million high school and elementary center construction projects only hire union workers.

The school board on Monday voted 8-1 to adopt a "project labor agreement," or PLA, that union officials say will ensure work will be done on time by guaranteeing, among other things, that highly trained workers are used and that the project will not be interrupted by labor disputes.

A similar provision for the Community College of Allegheny County's planned $21 million science center on the North Side recently resulted in a lawsuit by the Associated Builders & Contractors of Western Pennsylvania.

Officials with the trade group contend that such agreements raise project costs by eliminating competition from contractors who employ the 85 percent of area construction workers who are not union members.

"In 2008, the Shaler School District had a PLA for its $30 million high school renovation project and only received two bids from general contractors," said Eileen Watt, the trade group's president. "We believe that if nonunion contractors had bid, there would have been a dozen or more bids. And despite what the unions promised, work delays forced two delays in the start of school that year."

Union officials cited a number of projects in which labor agreements were in place, including Heinz Field and PNC Park, that were completed on time and within budget.

In response to the lawsuit filed against CCAC, college officials in early August halted bidding on the project to review concerns raised by nonunion contractors.

Bob Glancy, chairman of the trade group, chided Penn Hills officials for "failing to do their homework" before adding a labor agreement to the project's requirements.

"We would have been happy to attend the meeting and present the other side of PLAs," said Glancy, whose construction company did the recent renovations at Linton Middle School.

"We did presentations for the McKeesport and Bethel Park school boards on the same night that the unions made their pitch for PLAs and both boards voted against it," he said.

Penn Hills solicitor Craig Alexander said the board based its decision on a recommendation from an independent consultant, Keystone Research Center, based in Harrisburg. The study cost $15,000, which was not discussed at a public meeting.

Scores of trade union members packed Monday night's meeting to urge the board to adopt the labor agreement.

Kenneth Burns, a union steam fitter from Penn Hills, told board members they should feel an obligation to support organized labor.

"I pay taxes here, I volunteer here, I've done everything I can for this community," he said. "I think we deserve this PLA. There's a bunch of people sitting out there (in the audience.) But there are many, many more craftsmen that live in this township. We've devoted our lives to this township. I think we deserve that back."

Resident Heather Hoolahan questioned why the board adopted the labor agreement when the project was so close to going out for bid.

"We've been talking about this project for almost two years. I have not seen any of these people at any of the ... meetings. This is just another special-interest group coming in at the last minute."

To add the labor agreement, the board Monday postponed until Sept. 7 its vote to submit final construction plans to the state so the project can go out for bid.


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