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The debate about a proposed labor agreement is continuing to hamper the financing plan for the Dulles Metrorail project.

Virginia officials are urging the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Board of Directors to drop any use of a project labor agreement during the bidding process for the second major construction contract for the new Silver Line. The authority is planning to begin bidding the second phase later this year.

A PLA essentially is a collective bargaining agreement that applies to a specific project. It can set uniform wages, benefits and work rules for the project.

Proponents argue PLAs improve safety and help ensure a project is completed on time and on budget; opponents say the agreements increase costs by mandating the use of union labor.

Being that this project is being built in Virginia, a “right to work” state that does not allow collective bargaining, Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton and other officials say Virginia firms will be de facto discriminated against during the bidding process.

“There would be a possibility of someone getting the project who didn’t have the lowest and best price,” Connaughton said.

The airports authority board originally wanted to do a mandatory PLA for the second phase construction contract. After objections from Virginia officials, as well as the passage of a law banning the use of state funds on projects with mandatory PLAs, the airports board revised its position.

Currently, the board has signed off on offering a 10 percent scoring bonus during the competitive bidding to bidders that voluntarily include a PLA. On the project’s first phase, the PLA was negotiated after a contract was awarded.

Michael Curto, chairman of the MWAA board, said his board thinks the PLA on the first segment of the Silver Line was successful. The board modeled the voluntary agreement on federal bidding processes.

“We thought that falling to the default position of the federal government we would be insulated from charges of ‘discrimination,’” he said.

That change is not enough to satisfy Loudoun County officials, according to Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York (I-At large).

York said if the authority does not remove the preference for PLAs, he will not be able to get enough support on his board to continue Loudoun’s participation in the project.

If Loudoun County pulls out, it could delay the second phase of the Silver Line as the design is revised and the remaining parties renegotiate the financing plan.

Connaughton and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova (D-At large) also signed off on a letter asking the airports authority to remove the preference in the bidding process.

The debate about the PLA has become “an obstacle,” Bulova said.

In addition to being concerned about Loudoun’s participation, she is concerned the project could lose state funding officials are hoping to use to limit the rate of tolling increases on the Dulles Toll Road. Tolls are financing the bulk of the second phase.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com