- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2000

BALTIMORE Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III said yesterday his state "does not intend to increase its $200 million commitment" for a Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement, despite the decision by Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening to consider a deal with labor leaders that could increase costs.
"Virginia can't be expected to carry a blank check on overruns," Mr. Gilmore said after speaking at a fund-raiser at Oriole Park at Camden Yards for U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Maryland, a fellow Republican.
Because Maryland owns the Potomac River at the bridge crossing, Mr. Glendening has the power to execute contracts for the project, which connects the two states south of the District of Columbia.
But Mr. Gilmore said he has not talked to Mr. Glendening since the Maryland governor called more than a month ago and proposed that Maryland and Virginia each cover 10 percent of cost overruns and the remaining 80 percent be paid for with federal funds earmarked for other projects.
Mr. Gilmore said that is unfair and something Virginia could not afford.
And then, Mr. Gilmore said of Mr. Glendening's call: "[He] wasn't really discussing it with me, [he] was telling me what he was going to do." He added that Mr. Glendening's announcement surprised him because, together, they had a productive discussion with Clinton administration officials about the bridge just a few weeks before.
Mr. Glendening, a Democrat, has since then announced he is considering a labor agreement that would require most of the work on the $2 billion bridge replacement be done under union rules.
Maryland and Virginia governors each have agreed to pay $200 million toward the bridge, and both contend the federal government ought to pay at least the $900 million Congress has authorized because the bridge is part of a federal highway that is the major transportation artery from Maine to Florida. Even those commitments would leave funding for the project at least $600 million short of current estimates.
Despite the uncertainty over funding, Mr. Glendening ordered that work begin this fall. "Governor Glendening believes the risk of delaying the project outweighs the risk of moving forward," said spokeswoman Michelle Byrnie.
But that could leave Maryland taxpayers holding the bag for any cost overruns.
Mr. Gilmore said he wants the bridge built, but he "believe[s] the labor dispute we are talking about is just the beginning" of disagreements that could delay it.
Opponents contend Mr. Glendening's motive is to reward labor leaders for their political support.
Mr. Glendening's staff says his objective is to get the work done well and quickly, and that every action he has taken reflects that goal.
Giving union workers the edge is a harder sell in Virginia, a "right-to-work" state, where a majority of employees can bring in a union but unions cannot require membership or fees for representing them at the bargaining table.
Mr. Gilmore said shunning such agreements encourages competition and enables Virginia to keep costs "reasonable."
Dredging is under contract, and the Parsons Engineering transportation group is studying the bridge replacement to recommend what, if any, deal the state should make with labor. The study might be complete and a negotiated deal might be struck in late October or early November before the state is expected to seek bids for $150 million in foundation work, transportation officials said.
But to bid on projects for which labor agreements mandate union rules, a company essentially has to make employees union members or replace them with union members, said Herbert R. Northrup, an economist and professor emeritus of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.
Mr. Northrup who said he has done most of the research comparing union-biased agreements to open competitive bidding said "the effect is quite large and all bad" when government mandates that union shops get the advantage on publicly funded projects.
"It raises grave questions of public policy because employees have not endorsed it and it discourages competition," Mr. Northrup said. "It means the savings they could obtain are washed out."
Committing public projects to terms negotiated with labor leaders is an effort to force union dominance into areas such as Maryland, the District and Virginia where the majority of companies have been "open shop," Mr. Northrup said.
An open shop is a company in which unions don't have bargaining power because a majority of employees haven't voted to bring the union in to negotiate for them.
Mr. Northrup said studies done for government agencies are usually flawed because they compare costs under such labor agreements to costs without an agreement but where unions still get most of the work, rather than to costs under open-shop conditions.
Labor leaders concede that operating under union rules "rearranges the economics of the job," but say doing so offers advantages to the customer as well as the workers.
Raymond Poupore, national director of "heavy and highway" for the Building and Construction Trades council of the AFL-CIO, contends union workers can lower costs and add value to a project because they are the most skilled.

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