Printer Friendly

UNIONS GAIN INSIDE TRACK ON LAX JOB CITY MOVING TOWARD UNIONS FOR LAX WORK.

Byline: Beth Barrett Staff Writer

With billions of dollars in Los Angeles International Airport work on the horizon, city officials are in the process of changing the rules to force virtually all construction workers to be hired through union halls and work under union rules.

The first-ever ``project labor agreement'' for LAX has tentatively been approved for the upcoming $120 million remodel of the Tom Bradley International Terminal after it was negotiated by local unions and a private firm, said Carl Uehlein, the Washington, D.C., lawyer brokering the deal.

Los Angeles World Airports, for legal reasons, would become the ``beneficiary'' of the arrangement if airport commissioners and the City Council concur and city officials claim it will ensure a more skilled work force and labor peace.

But others claim that insisting on union contractors when an estimated 70 percent to 80 percent of the local construction work force is nonunion is unjustified and that the agreement will increase the cost of the LAX project.

``This is a grab by the unions,'' said Joe Battaglia, executive director of the Associated Builders and Contractors Los Angeles/Ventura Chapter, which represents nonunion contractors. ``They're forcing individuals who choose not to be in the union to be in a union just to work.

``It's scare tactics. They put a gun to your head, `Do this or we'll strike.' ''

Interim airports Executive Director Lydia Kennard said the agreement that is expected to go to the airport commission next month is a tested method and would guarantee LAX gets well-trained, quality workers.

``This makes good business sense for us as an airport, and we're enthusiastic about it moving forward,'' Kennard said. ``This is a concept that's been duplicated across the nation at other major airports.''

Commission member Miguel Contreras, executive secretary/treasurer for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said through a spokesman that he is withholding comment pending formal consideration of the matter. Other commissioners did not return calls.

The airport commission and a labor-friendly council have worked to give labor more control over LAX contractors and even subcontractors.

Senior Assistant City Attorney Bret Lobner said the commission started to explore umbrella pre-hiring rules more than a year ago for the more than $10 billion expansion, one of California's largest public works projects ever. The Bradley terminal is not part of that expansion.

Lobner said the terminal labor agreement would prevent labor strife and provide top-notch employees in a nondiscriminatory fashion.

``They cannot strike or stop work or they'd face penalties of $10,000 per day,'' Lobner said.

PROPOSAL CALLED UNFAIR

The courts generally have upheld similar agreements as legal, with the California Supreme Court last summer ruling they do not violate state competitive bidding laws.

But critics question why public officials would enter into an agreement that could increase costs.

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said his organization has studied project labor agreements and found they are expensive.

``The result is a substantial increase in cost for public projects,'' Coupal said. ``We'd hoped the trend toward project labor agreements would terminate. I suppose if you give in to terrorism and extortion you save yourself some grief, but we don't think that's in the public's interest.''

APPLAUDED BY UNIONS

Marvin P. Kropke, business manager/financial secretary for IBEW Local Union 11, said the agreement will benefit unions and the community.

``It will provide an incentive for people to be part of the industry,'' Kropke said.

He said that since union and nonunion shops alike must pay prevailing wages, there should be no difference in cost to public entities unless nonunion shops fail to pay those wages. Nonunion contractors contend they can do jobs for less because they don't have to comply with layers of union rules.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and other trade organizations, Kropke said, commit themselves to successful apprenticeships and long-term training of their members.

``They (nonunion contractors) want to come into town, do a job and leave,'' he said. ``People who stay in the business have no problem working in this environment.''

UNION CONTROL FAVORED

The agreement would allow nonunion contractors to compete, but all nonsupervisory nonunion workers would have to go through union halls.

They would have to pay what amounts to union dues and meet other union requirements. They would get prevailing wages and union representation.

The agreement was negotiated between the unions and Parsons Constructors Inc. of Pasadena to shield the airport from possible challenges under the National Labor Relations Act, which has been used to argue that public agencies cannot enter into the pre-hiring arrangements.

Parsons officials did not return calls for comment.

Last Tuesday, the unions and Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg were poised to ask the council to consider reversing airport commission approval of an LAX general contractor's use of a nonunion subcontractor, Helix Electric of San Diego.

They were backed by the Democratic National Convention Committee, which sent a protest letter to Mayor Richard Riordan. But the group backed down after learning a larger Helix Electric contract already had been approved by the commission and had not been challenged by the council.

By that time, there had been a flurry of meetings, including one attended by Riordan and union representatives.

Joe Cerrell, whose consulting firm represented the IBEW and the National Electrical Contractors Association, characterized the meeting with the mayor and his staff as productive and his clients as ``very satisfied'' with the overall result. Deputy Mayor Noelia Rodriguez declined comment.

Goldberg said she had the votes to reconsider the Helix bid even though it represented a $500,000 saving over the next bidder. She said she was worried the Helix contract would have inflated on the job.

``I still have concerns, but when the contractor, mayor and unions all asked me to withdraw it, I did,'' she said.

Arthur Geller, Helix Electric's spokesman, said the firm met with IBEW officials, and was urged to support project labor agreements.

``It's not our policy,'' Geller said. ``We don't support the concept. We're committed to an open shop.''

General contractor Swinerton & Walberg Co. Vice President Forrest Redman said the company was playing by the ``rule book'' when it hired Helix.

Geller said the firm is committed to finishing its two contracts totaling about $9 million as part of LAX's face lift in anticipation of the Democratic Convention but won't work under a project labor agreement.

``As a taxpayer, I'd be outraged by this,'' he said.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 15, 2000
Words:1074
Previous Article:U.S. AND IRAN; SUNDAY'S SOCCER MATCH MATTER OF PRIDE SUNDAY GAME SEEN AS CHANCE TO DISPEL MYTHS.
Next Article:RIDING HIGH! UNEMPLOYMENT AT LOWEST YEAR-END LEVEL SINCE 1969 STATE'S PEACETIME ECONOMY STRONGEST SINCE WORLD WAR II.


Related Articles
LAX TRAFFIC TO REMAIN GROUNDED.
EDITORIAL THE LAX ALTERNATIVE EXPANDING THE REGION'S SMALLER AIRPORTS MAKES SENSE BOTH ECONOMICALLY AND ENVIRONMENTALLY.
COMMISSION OKS AIRPORT LABOR CONTRACT.
CITY REJECTS UNITED'S CONTRACT IN UNION FIGHT.
LABOR WORKING ON L.A.; UNIONS HAVE `BANNER YEAR'.
BRIEFLY.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters