Ogdensburg Won’t Save Money With a PLA

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Ogdensburg Won’t Save Money With a PLA

From The Watertown Daily Times 

For years, the city of Ogdensburg has struggled to gather funding for improvements to the wastewater treatment plant. Now, with the final financing pieces falling into place, the spendthrift City Council has voted to irresponsibly waste tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to conduct a study to consider using a Project Labor Agreement: a discriminatory, pre-hire agreement with labor organizations requiring that the workforce comes from the local union hiring hall. Using PLAs virtually eliminates competition for the unions, ensuring their contractors win the work.

Those who favor organized labor will argue that PLAs are a cost-saving measure. That’s simply false. They will point to pre-construction studies that use an antiquated labor model created to demonstrate that the PLA will save money. However, the outdated model fails to accommodate for the massive changes in the construction industry over the past few decades. The City Council was recently approached by Seeler Engineering, a company that tailors its studies to show union favorability, to conduct the study for the price of $21,000.

Having grown up in St. Lawrence County, I understand the economics of the region and how important it is to stretch the taxpayer dollar. Each City Council member has fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers. The obvious way to uphold that responsibility is to allow every qualified contractor, including many in the north country, to openly bid the job. It’s simple math: More competition leads to lower bids. However, Deputy Mayor Dan Skamperle is trying to dole out favors to his union friends by continuously pushing for a PLA on this project.

There have been numerous problematic projects conducted with the use of a PLA that have cost taxpayers millions of dollars. For successful wastewater projects that were conducted without a PLA, the City Council need look no further than their neighbors in Potsdam, Malone and Saranac Lake. Each of these municipalities allowed any qualified contractor to complete sound wastewater projects.

While flawed PLA studies are conducted in advance of a project to identify “alleged” savings, nothing is ever done after to determine if the savings were realized. Perhaps that’s because it would prove what we’ve been saying for years: PLAs don’t actually save anything and, in fact, cost more.

The City Council has already committed to wasting $21,000 for the study. Now it needs to take responsibility and quell the taxpayer burden by allowing everyone to bid work on this wastewater project, open and fairly.

Amanda Bertram

ABC Vice President of Public Affairs

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“It’s not shocking, this is a pattern that we have seen with public works projects across New York state that are bid with project labor agreements,” Amanda Bertram, vice president of public affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors/Empire State, said in a story published Saturday by the Times. “Across the board, they all come in millions of dollars over engineering estimates. This is a trend.” Associated Builders and Contractors is a national trade organization representing those in the construction industry who don’t belong to unions. Ms. Bertram met with City Council members in November to discuss the disadvantages of using PLAs.

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