By Carten Cordell │ Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau
ALEXANDRIA — Wednesday’s meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s board of directors focused in part on transitioning from the conclusion of Phase I of the $5.5 billion Dulles Metrorail Project and starting Phase II, an 11-mile stretch of rail to Washington-Dulles International Airport.
But while bid proposals for construction of the remaining part of the line are expected Friday, the politicking for who will hold those jobs began in earnest Wednesday.
Representatives from the Laborers’ International Union of North America, or LiUNA, were present to advocate for a project labor agreement on Phase II, in tow with union labor members who had helped construct Phase I.
“If I am satisfied with this product, why go somewhere else,” said Jeffery Bowers, who worked on the rail columns of Phase I and is the recording secretary of LiUNA’s Local 11 chapter. “I think we did something very credible out there. We hope they see we are a credible workforce.”
Phase I included a project labor agreement — a pre-hire contract with organized labor for many construction projects — as a requirement because it used federal funds in its construction.
Phase II currently uses no federal funds, so the decision on whether to have a PLA will come from the company that wins the contract to build the line, Dulles Metro Project executive director Pat Nowakowski said.
“It’ll be their decision what they want to do,” he said. “We don’t get to choose. At this point, Phase II is all about who submits the lowest price.”
Five construction firms have been shortlisted in competition for the bid on Phase II, including Bechtel Transit Partners, who helped construct Phase I.
Nowakowski said the contract was expected to be awarded in May, at which point planning and labor negotiations would commence.
“The notice of award is dependent on several things,” he said. “One, we have to review what they submit with the bid and there’s a whole bunch of documents. Two, even after we do that and have somebody successfully pass that test, they have to go get insurance documents and stuff like that.”
Nevertheless, LiUNA officials drafted a letter to MWAA board of directors chair Michael Curto and CEO Jack Potter advocating for a PLA on Phase II, highlighting organized labor’s work on Phase I and asking assurance that the contract winner would rehire the same union workers.
“Just as MWAA will ensure that the winning bidder purchase the correct equipment and materials, we ask you ensure that the winning contractor hire the most appropriate workforce for the success of the project,” said the letter, signed by LiUNA executive secretary Vance Ayres, and distributed by a LiUNA official at the board meeting.
Labor agreements on Phase II were a hot-button topic last summer when a proposal by MWAA to include a mandatory PLA on Phase II ran afoul of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
McDonnell threatened to withhold $150 million in funding from the project unless MWAA dropped the PLA, which it agreed to do in June.
The fight was not over, however, as McDonnell later sought to remove Dennis Martire from the MWAA board of directors. Martire’s position in leadership in LiUNA was seen as problematic in Richmond, alongside $38,000 in travel expenses he had incurred in service of the authority.
Martire sued to stay on the board, but the matter was later settled with him agreeing to step down.
There don’t figure to be as many fireworks this year, but expect organized labor to be watching the contract process once the bids come in Friday.
“A lot of this became more stable working for Dulles Transit Partners,” Bowers said. “By far it’s the best job we’ve worked on, not only from the standpoint of pay, but the benefits package, being able to provide for your family and the experience of working on it.”
Email Carten Cordell at [email protected]