- - Thursday, April 17, 2014

Last week, the contractor for the first phase of the Silver Line Metro extension certified that Phase One was complete. The Silver Line will eventually take riders deep into Loudoun County, beyond Washington Dulles International Airport.

What is painfully apparent to those who live in Northern Virginia, but may be missed by those in the rest of the commonwealth, is that the project is already seven months behind schedule despite the fact that this is the second time the contractor has declared the work “complete.” Saying it doesn’t make it so.

The contractor previously certified its work as complete back in February — five months after the September deadline — but it was rejected by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority officials.

Why do I bring this up? Because this huge project is being built here in Virginia — a right-to-work state — with taxpayer dollars under a contract that has a project labor agreement requirement, effectively making this a union-only project.

Two years ago, state Delegate Barbara Comstock and I carried the legislation in the General Assembly that effectively banned project labor agreements (or union-only construction contracts) utilizing taxpayer dollars. Because the first phase of the Silver Line had already been bid out and contracted, the legislation did not apply to it, but it does apply to the second phase of the Silver Line construction.

Opponents of the legislation predictably included virtually every union and organized labor group in Virginia. Those in the legislature eager to curry favor with organized labor crowed about the “exemplary track record” of contractors operating under project labor agreements in delivering those projects “on time and on budget.” Those same groups and their legislative allies are understandably silent now — or alternatively, they are pointing fingers in other directions, playing the blame game.

The fact is Phase One of the Silver Line represents a classic case study in why project labor agreements are a bad idea.

First, they cost more. When Phase Two was bid out under the new law banning project labor agreements, bids came in nearly $400 million under the projected cost of the project.

Second, 95 percent of Virginia’s construction workforce is not unionized. This means that in order to secure union contractors and union labor, we have to hire out-of-state contractors and out-of-state construction workers to build projects funded with state tax dollars.

Third, a seven-month delay meets no one’s definition of “on time,” and the end may still not be in sight. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority officials are about halfway through the 15-day window for review of the contractor’s certification, and if they concur, they will then have 90 days to test the system. At the very earliest, a project due to be handed over by Sept. 9, 2013, is looking at a late July launch. That assumes no more embarrassing discoveries, such as the March disclosure that the Silver Line’s communications system used subpar equipment that wasn’t even up to fire code nor listed with Underwriters Laboratories.

It remains to be seen how much longer commuters in Northern Virginia will have to wait to ride the Metro as a result of the decision of political appointees — excluding some recent Virginia appointees — who sought to curry favor by toadying to union bosses who then contributed millions to statewide campaigns in Virginia in order to undermine our status as a right-to-work state.

In another development last week, Gov. Terry McAuliffe appointed Virginia AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Ray Davenport as the new commissioner of Virginia’s Department of Labor and Industry. Ending the state’s use of project labor agreements helped shore up Virginia’s right-to-work law, but if we’re going to continue to enjoy the economic benefits of right-to-work, vigilance is clearly the order of the day.

Mark D. Obenshain is a Republican member of the Senate of Virginia.

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