The old Champlain Bridge is still being demolished, but already there is controversy over how the new one will be built. New York officials and union leaders want contractors to sign onto a project labor agreement, or PLA. Vermont officials and contractors say it's a bad idea that would limit the bidding.
The Senate Economic Development Committee held an informational hearing Friday to better understand the pros and cons of a PLA-- something that has never before been used in Vermont.
"Our biggest concern is a PLA is really an exclusive process," said Andrew Martin, an executive board member of Associated General Contractors of Vermont. "We're required to use union labor to perform the work. We don't agree with that. The state of Vermont, 90 percent of the craft is open shop, so it is really limiting a large group of people from the state of Vermont from doing the work."
"Absolutely false," countered Bryan Bouchard of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. "Every contractor is allowed to bid, but they have to follow provisions of project labor agreement."
Bouchard said such provisions would actually save the project money.
"You'll have no overtime after 8 hours and they'll give up overtime premiums," he said. "Shift differentials are renegotiated, there's no organized coffee breaks. There's no paid holidays, there's no travel pay. So in a project that runs a span of 15 months, that's a huge savings."
"If Vermont does not agree to sign onto this PLA, we're throwing away $3 million in savings," said Prairie Wells, political director of the Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers of Vermont and New York.
Vt. Transportation Secretary David Dill said the contract has already gone out to bid without a PLA. Re-advertising it could delay the project -- and that would add costs.
"What I want the Legislature to do is nothing," he said. "Drop the issue, go on schedule, let us proceed without a PLA, let us proceed with fair and open competition and get the job done."
It's a job that's scheduled to start this summer, with a new bridge completed by fall of 2011.
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