Unions Criticize Lack Of Pre-Hire Labor Agreement For Juneau Dock Project

A consultant’s drawing of Juneau’s proposed floating cruise ship docks. Image courtesy CBJ Docks and Harbors Department.
A consultant’s drawing of Juneau’s proposed floating cruise ship docks. Image courtesy CBJ Docks and Harbors Department.

Juneau labor unions are criticizing a recent CBJ Docks and Harbors Department decision to bid a contract for two new floating cruise ship berths without a Project Labor Agreement.

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A PLA is a deal between the owner of a project and labor unions establishing terms for things like wages, working conditions, and benefits. While PLAs do not require the owner to hire a union contractor, they typically encourage them to use local workers and apprentices wherever possible.

“You are hiring based upon local rates. You have a commitment to hire apprentices. And you are going to be hiring people who are right there in the community,” Pete Ford, president of the Juneau Central Labor Council, said.

Ford last week wrote a letter to Juneau’s Docks and Harbors Department asking it to reconsider a recent decision to bid a $54 million project for two floating cruise ship berths without a PLA. He says the move goes against a policy adopted by the CBJ Assembly in 2008, which says the city should seek to use the agreements to the fullest extent allowed by law.

“Certainly in the 13 years I’ve been in Juneau, anything approaching $30-million to $50-million has been a PLA project,” Ford said.

Courts have upheld the use of PLAs by public entities, though critics say they disenfranchise non-union contractors.

CBJ departments review projects on a case-by-case basis to determine whether they need a PLA. The review looks at the complexity of the project, the amount of time it will take to construct, and whether an agreement would lead to cost savings or other efficiencies, among other factors. The city’s Law Department does not review projects, unless an agreement is challenged by PLA opponents.

CBJ Ports Director Carl Uchytil says a review of the cruise ship dock project determined a PLA was not warranted.

“It’s a large dollar project, but 75 percent is pile driving, 20 percent is materials, and the remaining is electrical and pipe-fitting work,” Uchytil said. “So, when you look at the complexity of the project, it does not lend itself to a PLA.”

“There’s not a lot of trades that are involved in this particular project.”

Uchytil says local hire is not one of the criteria CBJ departments use when evaluating whether to use a PLA. And while he says not a lot of trades would work on the project, he’s fairly certain the only prime contractors to bid on it would hire union workers.

“The plan holders for this particular project all of them are union shops,” he said. “So, we fully expect that the contractor that will be awarded this project will be a union shop.”

But Uchytil thinks a PLA could limit competition.

“I do know there’s non-union companies that are capable of providing subcontractor work that would be disenfranchised,” he said.

The Central Labor Council’s Ford says he’s concerned the lack of a PLA for the project will set a bad precedent for future city projects. And he disagrees with Uchytil’s assessment of the project’s complexity.

“Putting a new dock in our waters is not a simple task. Getting it secured, and depending upon how you’re going to secure it, requires some very, very skilled construction knowledge and abilities,” Ford said. “And it’s a job that you would want the best skilled tradesmen working on that you could possibly get.”

Uchytil says the Docks and Harbors Board has no plans to reconsider the decision to bid the project without a PLA.

The docks are being funded with local and state cruise ship passenger fees. Construction is expected to take two years, with the first berth ready for the 2015 cruise season and the second ready by summer 2016.

Bids are due Nov. 5.