The regional authority overseeing the $6 billion Dulles rail project dealt a blow to union labor on Wednesday — a day after voters in Wisconsin and California did much the same.
The authority’s move to quash union-friendly language for a crucial component of one of the largest public works projects in the country comes on the heels of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s historic win in that state’s first-ever recall election — a vote triggered by his move to sharply curb the collective bargaining rights of public-sector unions.
Meanwhile, voters in both San Jose and San Diego approved ballot initiatives that scale back retirement benefits for public workers. The union representing city employees in San Diego unsuccessfully fought to keep that city’s measure off the California primary ballot.
The Dulles rail development, while more nuanced, represents a similar example of pushback against unions.
The issue divided members of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) board largely on ideological lines between those who support and oppose requiring project labor agreements (PLAs) — pre-project collective bargaining pacts made between contractors and unions that outline conditions and wages for workers.
Virginia, where the rail-line construction will take place, is a right-to-work state, meaning that union membership cannot be required as a condition for employment.
But the MWAA board, which in April 2011 voted to require the lead contractor on phase two to use a PLA, also represents the interests of Maryland, the District and the federal government. Maryland and the District are overwhelmingly Democratic and generally considered friendly to labor, while President Obama issued an executive order in 2009 encouraging the use of PLAs on high-dollar federal construction projects.
The contractor for the first phase of the rail project employed a PLA that was voluntarily adopted after the bid was won in June 2007, under the administration of former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat.
Supporters of the PLA said the agreement helped ensure a safe, steady supply of capable workers on Phase 1 of the 23-mile line.
When the issue of a PLA for the second phase was introduced last year, the board engaged in countless debates with officials in Virginia, where Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, threatened to withhold funding for the project if the language was kept.
The airports authority board eventually watered down the PLA requirement on phase two to a preference, stating that contractors bidding on the project would receive a 10 percent scoring bonus if they agreed to use a labor agreement.
After more than a year of haggling during which Virginia’s funding for the project was uncertain, Mr. McDonnell wrote to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood this week saying that if the MWAA board voted to remove the PLA language entirely, the state would provide a pledged $150 million next year “without any further conditions.”
The move helped prompt the MWAA board to vote 11-1 on Wednesday to abandon the PLA preference.
“The state had changed their positions a couple times. We did get some mixed signals back and forth, and it was very difficult,” said Vice Chairman Thomas M. Davis III, an appointee of Mr. McDonnell and a former GOP congressman from Virginia, who cautioned against pointing fingers.
Still, board member Robert Clarke Brown, who cast the lone dissenting vote, was skeptical about Virginia’s commitment.View Entire Story
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David Sherfinski covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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