State Arm of National Business Association Eyes Ogdensburg Lawsuit Over $35 Million Project

From The Watertown Daily Times

OGDENSBURG — A spokesperson for the state chapter of a national construction association representing non-union companies and their workers says the organization’s board of directors will decide whether to mount a legal challenge in state Supreme Court over the City Council’s recent decision to adopt a Project Labor Agreement during its $35 million wastewater treatment plant rebuild.

“Obviously, it has been an interest of ours, this project,” said Amanda Bertram, vice president of communications for the Empire State Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. “Our plan going forward is to present this to our board of directors and our contractor members and, if they choose to, we will file the appropriate legal paperwork and stop the PLA,” she said.

Ms. Bertram said her organization did just that approximately two years ago when it protested a PLA agreement related to the $42 million expansion of the Plattsburgh International Airport.

“We did it in Plattsburgh,” Ms. Bertram said Friday. “Certainly we are not afraid to take legal action.”

The association Ms. Bertram speaks for represents close to 400 members throughout New York state. It has a central office in East Syracuse and branch offices in Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Long Island and the New York City metropolitan area. Nationally, the Associated Builders and Contractors represents 22,000 members from more than 19,000 construction and industrial firms, according to Ms. Bertram.

Last year, city officials heard from Ms. Bertram and other open-shop contractors, arguing that a pre-exisiting labor agreement, known as a PLA, would scuttle the ability of non-union contractors in the region to bid on the municipal project.

Despite those objections, City Council commissioned a $21,000 study that claimed the municipality could save upwards of $900,000 by entering into a union-supporting PLA.

As a result of the study, Ogdensburg City Council then voted unanimously to utilize such an agreement. The decision was met with applause from local labor leaders and rank and file union members in attendance.

But Friday, Ms. Bertram suggested that her state and national association has not taken its eye off the ball regarding the $35 million Ogdensburg project. She said at stake is the ability for all businesses and workers to compete.

“Frankly, someone needs to be an advocate for the taxpayers of Ogdensburg and laborers on the project, whether they be union or not,” Ms. Bertram said.

When contacted Friday, Ogdensburg City Manager Sarah Purdy declined comment regarding the threat of a lawsuit. She was specifically asked how such a suit would affect the plant’s construction timeline.

Ms. Bertram said a decision on whether to sue the city will come soon.

“We are going to present this to our board of directors and our contract members. They are meeting next week,” she said. “We don’t shy away from legal action.”

Founded on the merit shop philosophy, the Associated Builders and Contractors organization and its 72 chapters help members win work and deliver that work safely, ethically and profitably for the betterment of the communities in which they work, according to the organization’s website. Membership, according to the association, represents all specialties within the U.S. construction industry and is composed primarily of firms that perform work in the industrial and commercial sectors of the industry.

In a recent letter to the editor in the Watertown Daily Times, Ms. Bertram argued that a PLA contract in Ogdensburg, despite claims, will not save money because it limits who can bid on a major project.

“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,” Ms. Bertram wrote. “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.”

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