The head of the Connecticut Laborers’ District Council isn’t happy with the millions of dollars the state is giving to out-of-state companies to build some of the recently approved transportation and construction projects.
Charles LeConche, business manager of the Connecticut Laborers’ District Council, paraded up and down the sidewalk outside the state Capitol Monday handing out an orange flyer that said: “Why Governor Malloy Is Wasting Our Taxpayer Dollars Fact Sheet.”
At the top of LeConche’s complaint list is the $569 million Hartford to New Britain busway, a project championed by the unions.
LeConche said he was surprised to learn a “significant $150 million contract” was recently awarded to Middlesex Construction of Massachusetts. He said Connecticut construction workers, such as his 5,000 members, supported the project because they thought they would be getting the work. Unemployment amongst the construction trades in Connecticut is about 30 to 40 percent.
But Malloy scoffed at the notion there was anything he could do as governor to help Connecticut contractors win competitive bids for something like the busway project which is funded largely by federal funds.
“We’re a nation of 50 states. There’s a commerce clause built into the constitution so that you can’t decide who receives a contract particularly if it’s a bid contract,” Malloy said Tuesday. “On the other hand, we can do everything in our power to see that local labor is employed and I think that’s a different situation. I certainly want to see that we do that.“
Department of Labor Commissioner Glenn Marshall, who has been meeting with LeConche over these issues, said the Department of Administrative Services just released its report on in-state preference policies. The report was mandated by the legislature last year, as it struggled to make sure the state was doing its part to help residents get back to work.
The report said the legislature could look at creating a reciprocal preference penalty law, which would require the contracting agency to increase the out-of-state bid by the amount of preference the contractor receives on bids in its home state. But there were some concerns about this since it could harm Connecticut companies trying to do business in other states and it could drive up the prices the state would have to pay for goods and services because companies will “become aware of the preference and begin to factor it into their pricing.”
It also recommended extending the small and minority contracting criteria to school construction projects and finding an avenue for smaller businesses, which often have trouble securing the bonds or workers compensation policies required by the state in order to bid on many of its larger construction projects.
The report also found that there isn’t much the state can do when federal funds are involved because of the constitutional issues described by Malloy, but it did conclude that the Department of Transportation has been doing a good job of breaking down some of its larger construction projects into pieces and bidding those pieces separately, while still adhering to federal law.
But LeConche, who supported Ned Lamont in the gubernatorial primary, said Malloy should also attach Community Workforce Agreements, formerly known as Project Labor Agreements, to all the ‘First Five’ projects that require construction such as the ones at ESPN and Jackson Labs.
ESPN will receive a $17.5 million loan from the Department of Economic and Community Development over 10 years for the construction of a new “Digital Center 2” building. ESPN officials estimated the construction of that project will create 200 jobs.
Jackson Labs will receive a $192 million construction loan to build a 173,000 square foot research lab at the University of Connecticut Health Center’s Farmington campus.
But LeConche said the state’s prevailing wage law doesn’t apply to some of the money the state is giving to these private companies.
“These companies are not only taking our tax dollars, but they’re underpaying their workers,” LeConche opined.
At the Jackson Labs ceremonial bill signing last week Ed Reilly, a member of the Hartford Building Trades and the Iron Workers union, said Jackson Labs is in the process of negotiating a Community Workforce Agreement. The agreement is a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement with one or more labor unions and establishes the terms and conditions of the project
“I’ll believe it when I see ink on paper,” LeConche said.
He said this isn’t a union or non-union issue, this is an industry issue and his union is just looking to create some standards to level the playing field for its workers who are Connecticut residents.
“I doubt very much that the governor would be able to pass an executive order or a mandate that he would be able to attach a living wage to private industry, but what I’m really looking for is the responsible contractor provision,” LeConche admitted.
He said a responsible contractor provision requires an out-of-state contractor to have an apprenticeship program, up to date workers compensation policy, be pre-approved by the Department of Administrative Services, and have a safe work record in the industry.
“It has all the components which keeps these bums out of Connecticut,” LeConche said. “That has nothing to do with union, non-union. It’s an industry issue.”
In-state preference policies are something the legislature will likely examine during the upcoming legislative session.
“You have to put it in balance,” Malloy said. “There is federal law which lays out what you can and can’t do.”
He said the Massachusetts contractor who won the busway contractor has reached out to local Connecticut labor to let them know it’s looking for subcontractors.