- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 21, 2012

RICHMOND — A Northern Virginia delegate has inserted language into the House’s proposed budget to effectively negate a proposed incentive for firms bidding on Phase 2 of the Dulles Metrorail project to use a labor agreement that many say favors unions.

The move was made by Delegate Timothy D. Hugo, a Fairfax Republican helping lead the charge against the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board of directors’ efforts to mandate the so-called project labor agreement. The agreements set the terms and conditions between contractors and labor groups.

The state has conditionally agreed to provide an additional $150 million for Phase 2 of the project. Absent that contribution, a $2.25 toll on the Dulles Toll Road for a one-way trip could jump to $4.50, according to a recent report prepared for the airports authority. Mr. Hugo’s amendment would prohibit state funds from being used on projects that are subject to the labor agreements or union contractor preference.

“I think we’ve had grave concerns,” Mr. Hugo said. “And we’ve expressed it repeatedly that we want a level playing field. I think, point blank, that the actions of the … authority are on the verge of killing this project.”

Mr. Hugo added he supports the project, but “thinks the board’s actions are going to kill it.”

A bill in the Virginia House from Delegate Barbara J. Comstock, Fairfax Republican, that would bar state-funded projects from either requiring or prohibiting labor agreements has already passed the body. Its Senate equivalent, introduced by Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, Harrisonburg Republican, has cleared both chambers.

In response to the General Assembly concerns, the MWAA board last week scrapped its plans to require contractors to use an agreement. Members instead voted to offer a 10 percent credit in its evaluation for bidders who elect to use one.

MWAA spokeswoman Tara Hamilton said that the voluntary approach is similar to one taken by the General Services Administration for major federal construction projects.

“Unlike the mandatory approach, the new approach will not eliminate any contractor from the Phase 2 procurement based solely on its decision not to provide a PLA,” she said.

“Any [agreement] on Phase 2, which extends Metrorail service to Washington Dulles International Airport, would apply only to the prime contractor, and no subcontractor would be required to be a party to the agreement.”

But Mr. Hugo likened the scenario to a batter starting with a runner on third base every time he comes up, or a football game in which a team starts every series near midfield.

Critics argue the agreements can drive up construction costs and scare away nonunion contractors from bidding on projects. Proponents say the agreements ensure a steady supply of reliable labor and deliver projects on time and on budget.

Dulles Transit Partners, the lead contractor for the 13.5-mile first leg of the $6 billion project, voluntarily adopted one after winning the bid.

“I’m mystified by the hatred that some people have for labor to the degree that it overrides facts, and in this particular instance, the track record of PLAs,” said Delegate Robert H. Brink, Arlington Democrat. “Supposedly what [opponents] were concerned about was mandatory PLAs. But this isn’t good enough for them. I think they’re just using labor as a whipping boy.”

The board has already scaled back the $2.8 billion second leg, replacing an underground Metro station with a less-expensive aboveground one following public uproar over costs, among other changes. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stepped in last year and helped broker a plan among the board, Metro, the state of Virginia, and Fairfax and Loudoun counties to outline how to pay for it.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, inserted language into an appropriations bill last year that expands the board of directors from 13 to 17 members, allows them to be more easily removed and prevents them from serving beyond their terms.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, appointed two new members in November, but MWAA said D.C. and Virginia must approve the change before the law can take effect. Legislation that would conform Virginia to the federal law is currently working its way through the legislature.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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