- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 24, 2004

D.C. officials yesterday said a labor agreement for the Washington Nationals ballpark project in Southeast will require union representation of construction workers.

Local contractors who hire nonunion workers said the agreement will limit competitive bidding for contracts and drive up costs. Union officials said the deal will ensure the quality of the labor force and protect workers.

The unionized-labor conflict in the $435.2 million stadium project is the latest kink in Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ deal to bring a Major League Baseball team to the city after a 33-year absence.

“We are not doing anything to make it prohibitive for nonunion businesses to be part of this project. However, they will be operating in a union environment,” said Tara Dunlop, special assistant to D.C. City Administrator Robert C. Bobb.

Mr. Bobb and labor-law consultant Jane Brunner are drafting the project labor agreement (PLA) with input from labor unions and trade associations representing construction firms.

Ms. Dunlop said the agreement will require construction companies that work on the ballpark to provide workers with wages, health insurance and other benefits won by unions.

“They will be held to that standard,” she said. “But [nonunion firms] are certainly able to bid on this contract.”

Business and labor leaders familiar with the draft agreement said its stated goals are to provide employment and apprenticeship training for city residents and increase opportunities for minority businesses.

Among the provisions being negotiated are:

• The number of core employees that a company can retain who will not be covered by the union’s collective-bargaining authority;

• Whether all new workers must be hired through the union hiring hall, although new hires would have to join the union for the duration of the project;

• How much employers must contribute to union pension plans.

Debra Schoonmaker, president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Metro Washington, said businesses represented by her trade association are loath to accept a contract with “onerous union-only language in it.”

“Anybody can bid on the contract, [but] they probably will not bid it because they know they can’t or won’t agree to the terms of the contract,” she said. “What happens is you end up with fewer contractors bidding, which drives up the cost.”

Jerry Lozupone, secretary and treasurer of the Washington D.C. Building and Construction Trades Council, dismissed Miss Schoonmaker’s concerns.

“That’s what they always say,” said Mr. Lozupone, whose AFL-CIO-affiliated union represents about 25,000 construction workers in the metropolitan area.

“The District knows the union will ensure good wages, good benefits, safe working conditions, a grievance procedure and an approved certified apprenticeship program,” he said. “Without a PLA, [workers] are not going to benefit unless they are protected by a union. … There isn’t anyone who is going to protect them but us.”

The D.C. Council is expected give preliminary approval on Tuesday to the mayor’s plan to publicly finance the stadium on the Anacostia River waterfront.

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