Who is Dennis L. Martire? For all the controversy over cost overruns in the Metrorail-to-Dulles project, his name has barely figured in media accounts. But he is the central figure in the decision by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) board to require a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for Phase 2 of the multibillion-dollar construction project — a decision, critics say, that could add $300 million or more to the construction tab for the rail line.
Martire, appointed to the MWAA board by Gov. Tim Kaine, is vice president and Mid-Atlantic Regional Manager of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA). Working out of an office in Reston, he runs a division that represents construction workers from Virginia to Pennsylvania. In line with official LiUNA policy, he also has been an active advocate of Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) for major construction projects.
Under a PLA, the owner of a major capital project typically requires contractors to hire their workers from union hiring halls, contribute to union pensions, hire apprentices from union apprenticeship programs and abide by other measures that give union contractors an enormous advantage in the bidding process.
Here’s the timeline: In 2006, then-Gov. Tim Kaine transferred authority for managing the Metrorail-to-Dulles project, along with the Dulles Toll Road, to MWAA. Three years later, in 2009, he announced the appointment of Martire to the MWAA board for a six-year term. At that time, Martire was a public advocate for PLAs, as evidenced in this document published in 2008. After joining the board, Martire became chairman of the Planning and Construction Committee.
On April 6, 2011, the full MWAA board passed a resolution 11 to 2 requiring an estimated $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion worth of construction work on Phase 2 of Metrorail-to-Dulles to be subject to a PLA. One of the primary beneficiaries of the PLA likely will be LiUNA, Martire’s labor union, which represents lower-skilled laborers in big commercial construction jobs. LiUNA likely will collect hundreds of thousands or more in union dues as a direct result of the decision, and contractors and subs likely will pay millions of dollars into LiUNA’s union benefit plans.
Final details of the PLA have not been published yet, however, and may not be until the RFP is released for bids, so it is impossible to know for sure what the document will require, says Ben Brubeck, director of labor and federal affairs for Associated Builders & Contractors, which has protested the PLA. Phase 1 of the Metrorail-to-Dulles project, which is currently under construction, is operating under a PLA agreement, which prime contractor Bechtel voluntarily entered into. But that agreement exempts “merit shop” (non-union) sub-contractors from its provisions. A draft of the Phase 2 PLA would would make the agreement mandatory, and it would provide no exemption for sub-contractors, Brubeck says. With those two provisions, the second PLA will be more pro-labor than the first — a remarkable union accomplishment in a Right to Work state.
So, how did Matire come to Gov. Kaine’s attention? Why would the governor appoint someone with such an obvious vested interest to the MWAA board? Only Kaine can answer that last question with any certainty, but LiUNA’s track record as one of the biggest contributors to the Virginia Democratic Party surely entered into the calculus.
According to the Virginia Public Access Project, the Laborers Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizing Coalition has donated $419,050 to candidates and political action committees since 2007 — overwhelmingly to Democratic candidates. Creigh Deeds, unsuccessful candidate for governor, scooped up $250,000. Moving Virginia Forward, Tim Kaine’s PAC, garnered $55,000. The Laborers International Union of North America kicked in another $200,000 to the Democratic Party of Virginia in 2008,
Gov. Kaine, some may remember, wanted to appoint Danny LeBlanc, former chief of the Virginia AFL-CIO, to a cabinet-level position in his administration but was stymied by General Assembly Republicans who feared that the labor leader might undermine the state’s Right to Work law. Little did anyone imagine that Kaine would appoint Martire to MWAA or what the consequences would be. When Kaine announced the appointment, it seemed so routine that no one made note of it at the time. Only now, long after Kaine departed office, is the bill coming due. If critics are right in supposing that the PLA will add $300 million or more in project costs — not including the interest on long-term bonds — the citizens of Northern Virginia will be paying the price for a long time to come.
Correction: I have amended this post to correct the statement that Martire’s appointment to chairman of MWAA’s Planning and Construction Committee “put him in a position to shepherd the PLA through the approval process.” In point of fact, the PLA worked its way through the Dulles Corridor Committee.