County weighs union-only thuggery

Depending on your viewpoint, prevailing wage complaints are either an effective tool for unions to fight for all workers or a means to harass non-union contractors and those that hire them. Another tool in organized labor's toolbox — the project labor agreement — is equally polarizing. In October, the Calhoun County (MI) Commission almost considered a proposal to change Calhoun County's purchasing policy and require project labor agreements. The county ultimately pulled the item off the agenda and commissioners never debated the issue, although it had the makings of a tough political fight.

Commissioners who opposed the change include Republicans Jase Bolger of Marshall and Greg Moore of Emmett Township and Battle Creek Democrat Betty Arnquist.

"It was after Commissioner Moore and I started asking questions ... and were joined by Commissioner Arnquist, that the issue seemed to pause," Bolger said Monday.

The change, proposed by commissioner Mike Rae, D-Pennfield Township, would require a project labor agreement and prevailing wage to be in place for all county projects $50,000 or more. The county's current purchasing policy requires prevailing wage for projects totaling $250,000 or greater, but has no requirement for a project labor agreement.

"I think it's a good idea, but there was no consensus, so it's off the table," Rae said.

Chairwoman Kate Segal and commissioner Terris Todd, both of Battle Creek, have not taken a stance on the issue.

Commission vice-chairman Eusebio Solis, D-Albion, said he would decide on the issue when and if it comes back to the board for a vote.

"I'd welcome the discussion if it comes back on (the agenda)," Solis said. "The opposition is taking the worst case scenario and running with it. ...A PLA can be fair and balanced, but the devil is in the details."

Most PLAs require local area union wages, benefits and working conditions be employed at the site and incorporate the provisions of the applicable local area union agreements.

Supports say such agreements promote "labor harmony," although critics say they effectively shut out nonunion contractors.

Independent contractor John Sears, owner of J & L Electric in Battle Creek, also urged commissioners to vote against adding a PLA to county policy.

"Since we are an open shop, I feel that it would be discriminatory that only companies who are signatory to the unions be eligible to perform work for the County," Sears said in a letter to commissioners dated Nov. 29, 2007. "If you reduce competition, construction costs will surely rise. With tax dollars already stretched thin, can the County afford this?"


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