Unions criticize handling of Juneau dock project

JUNEAU — Labor unions in Juneau are criticizing the city’s move to bid a contract for a dock project without a project labor agreement, and they are asking officials to reconsider the decision.

The $54 million project calls for construction of two floating cruise ship berths, according to KTOO (http://is.gd/qdqmel).

A PLA is an agreement between a project owner and labor unions establishing wages, benefits, working conditions and other terms for a project. The agreements do not require the hiring of a union contractor, but they typically encourage the use of local workers and apprentices if possible.

“You are hiring based upon local rates,” said Pete Ford, president of the Juneau Central Labor Council. “You have a commitment to hire apprentices. And you’re going to be hiring people who are right there in the community.”

Ford said that in the 13 years he’s been in Juneau, projects of that size have included the agreement. Last week, he wrote a letter to Juneau’s Docks and Harbors Department, asking it to reconsider its decision to go without a PLA for the berth project.

Ford also said the decision went against the policy adopted in 2008 by the Juneau Assembly that says the city should seek to use the agreements to the fullest legal extent. The agreements have been upheld by the courts, although critics say the agreements disenfranchise nonunion contractors.

Juneau ports director Carl Uchytil said review of the project determined such an agreement was not warranted. The Docks and Harbors Board has no plans to reconsider its decision, Uchytil said.

“It’s a large dollar project. But 75 percent is pile driving, 20 percent is materials, and the remaining is electrical and pipe-fitting work,” Uchytil said. “So, when you look at the complexity of the project, it does not lend itself to a PLA. There’s not a lot of trades that are involved in this particular project.”

Local hire is not among the criteria the city departments used when evaluating whether to use pre-hire labor agreements, according to Uchytil. He also said he’s fairly certain the only prime contractors to bid on the project would hire union workers.

“The plan holders for this particular project all of them are union shops,” he said. “So, we fully expect that the contractor that will be awarded this project will be a union shop.”

Ford disagreed with the assessment of the project’s complexity, saying the work ahead is not a simple task. He said he’s concerned the lack of such an agreement will set a bad precedent for future city projects.

The deadline for submitting bids is Nov. 5.

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