- The Washington Times - Monday, November 27, 2000

Some area contractors say they will be shut out of bidding for work on the new Wilson Bridge if Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening negotiates with labor unions to establish wage rates for the project.

The Glendening administration said last week it will seek a "project labor agreement" (PLA) to control costs and ensure enough workers are available for its portion of the seven-year, $2.2 billion bridge-replacement project.

Government agencies generally use PLAs to award public works contracts to companies that use union labor. The unions usually promise not to strike during the project and to provide enough workers to finish the job.

Representatives for Mr. Glendening, a Democrat, said he will seek a Wilson Bridge agreement primarily to keep the project on schedule.

The governor will not necessarily require contractors to hire union members for the job, a Glendening spokeswoman said.

Contractors who do not employ union laborers say a PLA could require the firms to pay union-rate wages to nonunion employees.

"We will not be able to afford to bid if there is a strict union-labor requirement," said Paul V. Facchina, president of Facchina Construction Co. in La Plata. Md.

Mr. Facchina could not estimate how much his company's payroll would increase if he was forced to pay union-rate wages. He said his firm has about 400 employees and generates between $50 million and $100 million in annual revenue.

A study by Associated Builders and Contractors, an Arlington-based trade group that strongly opposes PLAs, claims a labor agreement could boost the cost of the Wilson Bridge project by $150 million, primarily through the higher wages that union labor commands.

The Glendening administration countered those claims by releasing a state-sponsored study that suggests a PLA would save money by providing protection against job strikes and ensuring there are enough skilled laborers to keep the job on schedule.

The Federal Highway Administration estimates replacing the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge will generate about 13,000 new jobs each year during the life of the project.

There will be more than 25 construction contracts administered by Maryland, as well as hundreds of subcontracts that will require skilled laborers such as carpenters, welders and electricians.

Another survey by ABC last spring found 70 percent of contractors who do business with the Maryland and Virginia transportation departments are "less likely" to bid on public works projects when required to sign a project labor agreement.

William Cox, president of Corman Construction Inc. in Jessup, Md., said he will not bid on Wilson Bridge work if there is a PLA because he believes it would boost the cost of the project and draw money from other state highway projects.

Mr. Cox said this would hurt his company because the Maryland State Highway Administration is one of its biggest clients.

"It would be a domino effect," he said.

ABC spokesman Jim Ryan estimated 80 percent of the contractors in the D.C. area are nonunion, or merit shops. This increases the likelihood that builders will have to look for laborers outside the D.C. area, he said.

Mike Dorsey, secretary-treasurer for the Building and Construction Trades Council, a local union-backed group, said the AFL-CIO will propose 80 percent of Maryland's bridge work be done by local residents, and at least 40 percent of the work be done by minorities.

"Not only is it a requirement, it is doable," Mr. Dorsey said.

The new bridge is expected to cost $2.2 billion, including $570 million for interchanges in Virginia and $440 million for interchanges in Maryland.

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican, has said he will not use a labor agreement for his state's portion of the bridge construction and will refuse to pay for overruns caused by a Maryland PLA.

Mr. Facchina and Mr. Cox said they may bid on some of Virginia's portion of the bridge construction.

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