A flyer advertising a project information session and potential work opportunities for Connecticut’s State Pier project in New London, informed potential construction bidders the State Pier project “is a union job.”
“Small, local and diverse firms are highly encouraged to attend. Diversity goals, certification requirements, and State of Connecticut registration and pre-approval requirements will be discussed. This is a union job,” the notice reads.
The flyer was produced by Kiewit, the Omaha-based construction manager selected by the Connecticut Port Authority to oversee the Connecticut State Pier Infrastructure Improvement project.
The $157 million project will turn the State Pier into a staging area for the Revolution Wind offshore wind turbine farm, a joint venture by Eversource and Danish company Ørsted.
The State Pier project was assigned a project labor agreement by the Connecticut Port Authority, although a Freedom of Information request revealed the CPA was unable to provide documentation as to how they reached the decision to include a PLA.
According to state statute, PLAs can only be assigned to a project when determined to be in the public’s best interest, but the requirements are fairly vague and open to interpretation.
But the inclusion of PLA on the State Pier project upset non-union contractors who claim PLAs essentially push them out of the bidding process by requiring a non-union firm to abide by union rules, hire from union halls and pay union dues, fees and benefits for the duration of the project.
Although proponents argue that PLAs don’t discriminate against non-union contractor or limit the number of construction firms willing to bid on a job, the flyer from Kiewit appears to preclude open-shop contractors from work on the State Pier.
“This confirms what we’ve know all along,” says Chris Fryxell, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Connecticut. “The decision to use a PLA was never about taxpayer interest, it was always about special interest.”
“Any pretense that government welcomed competition to get the best product at the best value is squarely out the window,” Fryxell said. “They stated the quiet part out loud.”
Kiewit did not respond to a request for comment.
Chairman of the quasi-public Connecticut Port Authority John Henshaw – who was not chairman when the State Pier project was assigned a PLA — pointed to the Request for Qualifications and the project labor agreement listed.
“The [construction manager], will negotiate the terms of, and enter into, the PLA with the Trade Contractor(s) and each of its affiliated local Unions… with respect to the site preparation, construction, additions and renovation of the Project,” the RFQ states.
The State Pier renovation will begin in 2021 and is expected to be complete by August of 2022. The Port Authority says it will create 400 jobs during the construction phase.
Afterwards, Eversource and Ørsted will lease the pier for ten years, resulting in an estimated 400 wind-related jobs, according to the CPA.
But for the 70 to 80 percent of in-state contractors who are open-shop, the matter is more about fairness and the ability to compete for big state projects and work for their employees.
“The Port Authority rigged the bidding process and has unfairly stripped local qualified workers and businesses of a fair opportunity to compete,” Fryxell said. “Unfortunately, the citizens of Connecticut lose again.”
**Update: Since the publishing of this article Kiewit revised their flyer to read, “Contractors performing work on this project will be required to sign a Project Labor Agreement.”**