Va. House, Senate pass ban on mandatory labor pacts for construction projects

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The Virginia House and Senate on Tuesday voted to ban mandatory project labor agreements on state-funded construction projects, a move proponents argue will help protect the state’s right-to-work laws and create a level playing field in contract bidding. Opponents say the ban is an unnecessary red herring.

The Republican-led House approved its version of the bill on a 69-27 vote, and the Senate deadlocked on the measure 20-20.

Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling casting the tie-breaking vote in favor of the legislation — his first tie-breaking vote on legislation this session. He also cast a tie-breaking vote to organize the Senate earlier this month.

“Public dollars should not be diverted to projects involving Project Labor Agreements that favor union shops over merit shops,” Mr. Bolling said in a statement. “This critical legislation protects our right-to-work law and continues to promote a pro-business environment.”

Virginia’s right-to-work laws prohibit union membership from serving as a prerequisite for securing a job, and Del. David L. Englin, Alexandria Democrat, questioned what the legislation approved Tuesday would actually do.

“It’s preventing the commonwealth from ever using this tool to protect taxpayer interests,” he said. “I’m simply concerned that we not tie the commonwealth’s hand and take away what can be, in some cases, a valuable tool.”

The debate over the agreements, prehiring arrangements in which contractors and labor groups set the terms of employment for a particular project, came to a head when the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority voted to include a mandatory PLA in the procurement documents for Phase 2 of the 23-mile Dulles Metrorail Project.

A PLA had been used on Phase 1 but was voluntarily adopted by Dulles Transit Partners, the prime contractor, after winning the bid.

“This bill simply requires neutrality in state government contracting,” said Delegate Barbara J. Comstock, Fairfax Republican, one of the measure’s sponsors. “Everybody will be competing on a level playing field.”

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