Metro-East News

Glen Carbon to require project labor agreements on village work

The Glen Carbon Village Board may have to repeat a controversial vote on project labor agreements, after questions have been raised about the procedure of the split vote.

Project labor agreements are contracts often added to the bidding documents for construction projects detailing the minimum requirements for employees involved in the project. The agreements typically result in the use of union labor.

Earlier this week, the Glen Carbon Village Board voted 4-2 to require the use of project labor agreements in every village project. But Mayor Rob Jackstadt said the vote may need to be taken again, because he believes the posted item in the agenda was not the same as the item voted on.

He also said he is concerned about the speed with which the proposal was put through: It was discussed at a committee meeting on June 2 and voted on Tuesday, he said.

“Where’s the fire?” Jackstadt said. “We want more time to study the issues, and to allow the residents to tell us what they would like us to do.”

Jackstadt said that under the prevailing wage laws, the required minimum salaries on public projects will be close to the union wages anyway. But, he said, the contractors will have to pay union dues and fringe benefits, the costs of which are passed on to the government agency in the form of higher bids.

“We need to (determine) if we are comfortable with the representation that union labor will always be better than merit-based or nonunion labor,” Jackstadt said. “With state funding cuts on the horizon, we have to be even more judicious with our spending.”

Illinois law already requires that contractors on government projects must pay the prevailing wage, a wage level set at the county level for the appropriate minimum salary for given tasks. But project labor agreements also require other stipulations, including union dues.

Proponents argue that PLAs ensure quality projects completed in a timely and efficient manner by ensuring qualified construction workers. Opponents say that PLAs drive up costs and discourage nonunion contractors from bidding on public projects.

In Illinois, PLAs are used in a number of municipalities and in the private sector, including Edwardsville, Granite City, Alton, Collinsville, Fairview Heights, Madison and St. Clair counties, both community colleges, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and businesses such as Ameren, Mid-America Airport, Monsanto, Olin and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.

A briefing paper supplied by the Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council stated that PLAs save the taxpayers money by ensuring a skilled, stable work force and eliminating delays and work stoppages. Trustee Ross Breckenridge, who proposed the requirement, said the metro-east is a unique area with a strong union history.

“With PLAs, we ensure that these apprentices are being verifiably trained, and when they come out to do a construction job for us, they’re doing it right,” Breckenridge said.

Breckenridge said in the absence of a PLA, the village might end up getting workers from neighboring states.

“I’d rather use local people,” he said. “We’re just making sure we have the adequately trained people to do this job. For every dollar that’s spent locally, it turns over seven times. We don’t want someone going back over to Missouri and spending the money there... There are 520 union members just in Glen Carbon who will benefit from this. I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to help your own citizens.”

However, Jackstadt said there are 22 states that have made PLAs illegal, including Michigan, Missouri and West Virginia. “It raises the question: If PLAs are so great for our residents, why have 22 states decided to make them illegal or limit them?” Jackstadt asked.

Breckenridge, who chairs the public services committee, said that he believes PLAs do not increase costs, but ensure better training for quality work. He said this agreement has been proposed in the past, and the trustees have done their homework.

“We’re all familiar with what a PLA is; I believed we had talked this through enough,” he said.

Trustees Micah Summers, Brooke Harmony and Steve Slemer also voted yes. Trustees Jorja Dickemann and Mary Beth Williams voted no. As mayor, Jackstadt only votes if there is a tie. The other trustees could not be reached for comment.

Jackstadt said he just wanted more time to study the issue, and that some residents have already told him they have serious concerns about the speed with which it was approved. He said the notice on the agenda was “vague,” and that the actual motion should have been in the form of an ordinance, calling the motion “overbroad.”

“There’s a lot of issues here,” Jackstadt said. “We have issues with how it was put on the agenda, but the point is, let’s take some time to hear this out and make sure we’re making the best decision for our residents.”

Breckenridge said there was “a little confusion on how it was worded,” but he is confident that if it does have to come up for another vote, the result would be the same.