County gets just 2 bids on construction project bound with union agreement

The Montgomery County Administration Building on West Third Street in Dayton. JIM NOELKER/STAFF
Caption
The Montgomery County Administration Building on West Third Street in Dayton. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Montgomery County received bids from just two contractors for an office renovation after instituting a project labor agreement to test whether the controversial arrangement with local trade unions would draw more interest to the current and future projects.

County commissioners on Tuesday awarded the eighth-floor county engineer’s office and bathrooms renovation to Wise Construction Company Inc. for $1,483,396, which was $71,804 below the bid of Triton Services Inc.

“To have a project of this nature to only have two bidders is a direct indictment on the nature of a project labor agreement (PLA) and how anti-competitive it is,” said John Morris, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Ohio Valley, who asked county commissioners earlier to reverse their decision on including a PLA on the project.

Under a project labor agreement, a selected contractor has to use current union workers or have their own employees approved by the signatory trade unions.

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Montgomery County’s first PLA was approved with local trade unions in May to use the eighth-floor office renovation as a pilot project to review the concept, work quality and workforce diversity, according to the county.

Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert said a challenging job — not the PLA — may have limited bidding on the modernization of a floor in the dated county building completed in 1972.

“I don’t think it had anything to do with the PLA at all,” he said. “We expected based on the complexity — the HVAC, the bathrooms, the ADA (compliance) — that this would be a smaller number.”

Colbert said the county’s pilot PLA gives the trade unions the ability document the makeup of the workforce, but does not mandate a union-only workforce.

“What it does for the union is it allows them from a reporting vehicle to see how many individuals are in the union, that are in these trades, and how many aren’t. That’s important data to them,” Colbert said.

The pre-bid meeting held June 24 drew representatives from at least 14 general contractors, according to the meeting’s sign-in sheet.

Since the beginning of 2017, the county received on average six bids each for eight other workspace renovations, a Dayton Daily News analysis shows.

Those projects included multiple renovations at the Sheriff’s Office Training Center and county offices at the Reibold Building as well as a another project currently under construction at the Montgomery County Administration Building to refurbish the county commissioners’ hearing room, a job which received 11 bids.

Wilcon Corporation was represented at the June pre-bid meeting. The PLA was precisely the reason the company didn’t bid the project, said Dennis Niemeijer, Wilcon’s president.

“After assessing the PLA attached to this project and the added bureaucracy that comes along with it, we chose to pursue other projects that do not have the additional requirements of a PLA. That way we can serve our clients in a more efficient manner,” he said. “Due to the current level of construction activity in the region we’re in the fortunate position to make that call.”

Last year, Wilcon Corporation was awarded a county contract for a renovation phase of the Sheriff’s Office Training Center, a job for which the county received six bids.

Debra Flatter, an estimator for AKA Construction, also attended the pre-bid meeting but did not submit a bid because of the PLA, she previously told the Dayton Daily News. The company has also completed past office renovations for the county.

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Morris’ industry group claims that project labor agreements disadvantage roughly 87% of the nation’s construction workforce that’s not unionized. About 19% of Ohio’s construction workers are unionized, slightly more than the 13% nationally, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman said Montgomery County is the last large county in the state to not use a PLA for a construction project.

“We said we were going to do a pilot and we are committed to that. We’ll see how it goes,” she said. “I think all three commissioners believe it was the right thing to do … Other counties have been doing this for a long time.”

David Abney II, president and CEO of the company awarded the engineer’s office project this week, said Wise Construction has completed several private-sector projects under union PLAs.

“We’ve done project labor agreements before, so it’s something that as a company we’re familiar with,” he said. “So I didn’t have any reservations about it … that didn’t bother me at all.”

Abney said local trade unions have a “good pool of workers and they offer all of the training, but I’m not saying the other groups don’t.”

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Montgomery County’s PLA also gives the local unions the right to know where the employees are coming from, their qualifications and how they are being compensated, said Grady Mullins executive secretary of the Dayton Building and Construction Trades Council.

“This way, if we see people coming from North Carolina, Tennessee and elsewhere, we can bring that to attention to the people like the commissioners and say this contractor is hiring people who don’t live in the community. They’re not having any input into the community, they going to do this job and leave,” Mullins said.

Lieberman said the project labor agreement will benefit area workers and families and return tax dollars to the local economy.

“If we’re going to put taxpayer dollars into project, we want to have people that are from here, from our region, who send their kids to school here and pay their taxes here — we’d like to give them a shot first,” she said. “We believe with this in place, we’ll be able to track that and we’ll be able to encourage the contractors to use local people because that’s important to us.”