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South Glens Falls school officials decide against project labor agreement

MOREAU — The South Glens Falls Central School District’s nearly $58 million capital project will not be done under a project labor agreement.

The Board of Education on Tuesday voted against entering into negotiations for a PLA in which every contractor that works on the project would have to sign and be bound by its terms.

PLAs often supersede individual union contracts, and the cited benefits include preventing work stoppages from labor disputes.

Superintendent of Schools Michael Patton said after voters approved the proposition in December 2015, the board was approached by the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council about exploring a PLA. The board hired a consultant to perform a study to determine whether there would be cost savings under an arrangement.

The board had tabled the matter from a contentious December meeting, where advocates for and against PLAs spoke out and the district’s consultant, attorney David Wukitsch, walked out in frustration over criticism of his report.

Wukitsch had recommended against a PLA because he could only come up with about $400,000 in projected savings. However, he said he believes it would limit competition for bidders and may lead to higher bids. That anti-competitive aspect would not be sufficient to offset the potential savings from the PLA.

Board members directed the parties to meet to discuss the issue. That meeting occurred on Jan. 3, and Bill McMordie, the school’s project manager, presented a summary of the discussions at the Board of Education’s meeting on Tuesday.

McMordie said PLAs have not been used very often for school construction projects. South Glens Falls used one for a 1999-2001 project, and the only other one he could find in the Capital Region was in the Albany school district for multi-year improvements from 2002 to 2015.

McMordie said one factor is whether there would be a shortage of labor. Despite a potential phase two of improvements at GlobalFoundries and other construction in the area, he said he does not foresee a problem finding workers.

“The labor market has been relatively stable for that amount of time. There hasn’t been any massive shortages,” he said.

One reason PLAs are used are to negotiate a different rate for second-shift work. McMordie estimated that only about 14 percent of this project would be done during the second shift. Not a lot of night work can be done because the district has to have the buildings open in the morning for students.

He said if about 25 percent to 30 percent of the work was being done on second shift, then a PLA might make more sense.

Another potential savings could come from the elimination of paid breaks. However, McMordie said it is tough for a construction manager to try to keep track of when everybody wants to take a break.

“It’s difficult to have somebody come in and work eight hours and not give them a break other than a lunch break,” he said.

McMordie said he could not find a significant impact from using apprentice labor.

He did believe that a PLA would limit the number of bidders on the project, as some “merit” — or nonunion shops — do not bid on PLA projects. McMordie said about five to seven bidders for the work is the sweet spot for savings.

Joshua Reap, director of government affairs for Associated Builders and Contracts, said he has spoken to several nonunion shops that are hoping to bid on this job.

Tab DeNovellis, vice president of Southern Tier Insulation, also spoke in opposition to PLAs.

“We’ve proven that our hard work and dedication is equal to or above any other contractor that’s out there, and we are only looking for a fair shake. In my opinion, taking away competition drives up price.”

Board members said they appreciated the additional information on PLAs.

“While I see they might be an appropriate and wise plan for some situations, I don’t think it makes sense for ours,” said Lisa Hogan.

The board voted 7-0 not to use a PLA. Board member Nelson Charron abstained because he works as the marketing representative for the United Association of Plumbing and Pipefitters Local 773. Thomas Kurtz was absent.

The board also signed off on plans for the site work at Moreau and Harrison elementary schools and the new transportation facility.

This article originally appeared in the Post-Star and can be accessed by visiting: