Cooch Still Backs McDonnell on Dulles-Rail PLA

Dulles rail construction near Tysons Corner. Photo credit: Washington Examiner.

Holy moly, I’m getting whiplash. Last week, word came out of the Attorney General’s office that the Comstock bill, written to ensure that union and non-union companies received equal treatment in state-funded contracts, would not block the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) from favoring a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) in Phase 2 of the Rail-to-Dulles heavy rail project.

Apparently, the AG’s opinion came through back channels and went public when Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun, shared the news with Loudoun County lawmakers. “It is the Attorney General’s firm opinion that those bills have no impact whatsoever on mandatory union provisions being imposed by MWAA,” he wrote. (See the Washington Examiner story here.)

But Cuccinelli called Black yesterday to tell him that the AG’s office had been wrong when it had advised him last week. “We have NOT issued an opinion on this yet, AND we have NEVER changed our position on [the Dulles funding bill]. That is just not correct,” Cuccinelli’s spokesman Brian Gottstein said in an email to the Examiner.

That should please the McDonnell administration, which has warned it might withhold $150 million in state funds appropriated for Rail-to-Dulles unless MWAA reverses its stance on the labor contract. In its most recent meeting, the MWAA board dropped its position that a PLA had to be mandatory and substituted instead a provision that would give preferential scoring to bids with PLAs.

Critics have said that requiring or favoring companies with PLAs would reduce interest by open-shop companies from participating in bidding for the job, estimated to cost $2.8 billion. Fewer bidders increases the odds that the winning bid will come in higher than the estimate.


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  1. Jeff Barnett Avatar
    Jeff Barnett

    With multiple contractors, subcontractors and craftsmen working on Dulles Rail, a single labor dispute could delay the entire project. A Project Labor Agreement stops that. PLAs establish a firm schedule with no labor delays. This cuts down the number of wasted time and expensive change orders – which cuts down taxpayer costs.

    In my opinion, opponents of Dulles Rail are misrepresenting PLAs to convey a false message. They imply that everyone working on Dulles Rail must belong to a union. This is untrue. For Dulles Rail, no one should be required, directly or indirectly, to join a union. No one will be forced to pay union dues or to apply for work only through a union hiring hall. Whether a contractor has or doesn’t have a union workforce should make no difference.

    What WILL make a difference is whether a contractor (union or nonunion) agrees to sign the PLA — and ensure no labor stoppages.

    In the end, Virginia remains a Right-To-Work state. Nothing in the Dulles Rail PLA can change that. A PLA will protect taxpayers and workers from abuses. What is wrong with that?

  2. Jeff, Read the Phase 1 PLA. Now, replicate that PLA for Phase 2. How can you say it doesn’t require the participation of labor unions?

  3. Barnett, you don’t know what’s going on with Dulles Rail, Tysons Corner or much else in Fairfax County.
    First, it’s unfair that the Dulles Toll Road users are paying the lion’s share of the costs for rail, without getting any significant benefits. And “no,” traffic studies show no improvement in traffic volumes. In fact, the growth triggered by the arrival of rail will require widening of the DTR. Pushing up tolls even higher to reward labor unions hurts DTR users.
    Second, the higher the tolls on the DTR, the more drivers will take other roads, most overcrowded. Keeping as many drivers as possible on the DTR benefits surrounding communities. Pushing up tolls to reward labor unions will make traffic worse for people in Vienna, Great Falls, Reston, and Falls Church.
    Most Virginia companies and workers are not associated with labor unions. Putting in a mandatory PLA will mean more work for non-Virginians and less work for Virginians. Who cares about Maryland?
    Labor Unions are an arm of the the Democratic Party. There is no reason for any Republican to give any benefits to a labor union. I find it interesting to see all the pro-choice Democrats pushing a no-choice mandatory PLA down their neighbors’ throats.
    If there is a work stoppage, there are plenty of other hungry workers to take their place. Simply hire replacement workers, as permitted by federal law. Any work stoppage can be held to a bare minimum.
    Labor unions provide no benefit to the residents of Northern Virginia. There is no reason to reward them with a mandatory PLA.

  4. larryg Avatar

    ” Labor Unions are an arm of the the Democratic Party. There is no reason for any Republican to give any benefits to a labor union.”


    let met ask this:

    is this untrue?

    “In my opinion, opponents of Dulles Rail are misrepresenting PLAs to convey a false message. They imply that everyone working on Dulles Rail must belong to a union. This is untrue. For Dulles Rail, no one should be required, directly or indirectly, to join a union. No one will be forced to pay union dues or to apply for work only through a union hiring hall. Whether a contractor has or doesn’t have a union workforce should make no difference.”

    what I suspect here …all along.. is yet another skirmish in the partisan culture wars…

    unions are NOT inherently bad. There ARE bad examples of unions JUST AS there ARE bad ENRON-like examples of corporations.

    Why do you folks take the bad and demonize across the rest ?

    that’s not right.

    when you fly an airliner – those two pilots are union.

    when you get a delivery package from UPS or Fed Ex – they are union.

    there are dozens of unions right in front of you that you NEVER hear about and they fairly represent the workers and provide a well-trained workforce.

    every time an issue comes up these days – it will, by definition, be defined as a partisan wedge issue and from that point on the sides are chosen and the fight is on.

    this is why the Va GA and Washington do not work. It’s US!

    we are the ones who willingly make these issues divisive litmus tests with no compromise allowed.

    I’m disgusted by it.

  5. I will repeat for the 50oth time… There is nothing *anti* union in the legislation. The legislation merely prohibits discrimination against open shop companies. *Nobody* says that all unions are bad. Nobody says most unions are bad. The point is to maximize competition for bids — union shops and open shops — for state-funded government jobs.

    The refusal to acknowledge these basic points says to me that the real motive of Democrats and Donkey Clan sympathisers is to tilt the playing field in favor of unions in order to ensure the flow of union booty, extracted from individual union members with no say-so in how the money is spent, into Democratic Party coffers.

  6. If the successful Phase II bidder wants to sign a PLA that is fine with me. The company signing a PLA might not be the low bidder. That’s a risk businesses take, so many of them won’t take them on their own. I don’t want MWAA requiring it or giving points for agreeing to a PLA. I don’t care if you belong to a union. I don’t care if others voluntarily join unions. I don’t want to be forced to pay dues like I was in Minnesota years ago. Just as FDR, I don’t think unions belong in the public sector. I’ve lived in RtW states since 1977. I think RtW is fair to all. My wife, who generally votes for Democrats, went nuts when the grocery store union signed up our daughter without telling her it was optional. As a part-timer, my daughter was not going to get any benefits from the union.
    My point about labor unions being an arm of the Democratic Party is pretty darn factual. VPAP, for example, shows the Virginia AFL-CIO gave $224 K to Democrats and zero to Republicans. Why would a Republican work for the AFL-CIO’s agenda? Doesn’t make any sense.

  7. larryg Avatar

    ” Labor Unions are an arm of the the Democratic Party. There is no reason for any Republican to give any benefits to a labor union.”

    I suspect I could go back in BR history and find similar statements from others, no?

    I know TMT has a grudge based on his treatment as a younger man but Jim, you say what you say but if you do a search on PLA Dulles or similar you’ll find a lot of evidence contrary to what you’re saying about it not being about unions.

    when we say project labor agreement – it does not mean “union”.

    it’s an attempt to arrange a top-level commitment from all the contractors to NOT strike or walk out … which could paralyze and financially damage a large project. Somehow .. all the dozens/hundreds of contractors have to function NOT as individual entities – each one that could wreak havoc by walking out.

    but none of these issues are in the rhetoric which is basically being waged as pro-union, anti-union sound-bites.

    If you think not… please explain the real intent of the legislation?

    1. So, says LarryG, the point of a PLA is “to arrange a top-level commitment from all the contractors to NOT strike or walk out … which could paralyze and financially damage a large project.”

      Larry, how many non-union companies have to deal with strikes and walk outs?


      PLAs ensure labor stability for *union shops*! A non-union shop with a PLA is an oxymoron.

  8. The real intent of the legislation? To allow open-shop companies to compete on an equal playing field with union companies, thus maximizing the number of bidders on government construction jobs.

  9. larryg Avatar

    ” VPAP, for example, shows the Virginia AFL-CIO gave $224 K to Democrats and zero to Republicans. ”

    224K? … compared to how much the GOP got from corporations? Millions, right? Unions gravitate to the Dems because the GOP has declared war on them. Ronald Reagan sought support form union members but he was smart enough not to wage war on the unions themselves.

    Every issue now is a culture war issue for the GOP. It’s going to be their way or the highway and they pretty much made that clear when they demonized their own – the RINOs and traded them in for far right wing reactionaries.

    hispanics, blacks, teachers, unions, women, gays, Muslims, etc…

    it’s just like old times with the Nixon Enemies List!

    1. Argh! Larry, the AFL-CIO is just one union organization! Look how much money LiUNA gave!! Look how much all the other unions gave!!!!

      As for corporations, they are much more even-handed in how they dispense their dollars.

  10. larryg Avatar

    well I take back the Reagan comment.. he did..very much …kill the air traffic controllers folks.

  11. larryg Avatar

    how does the current PLA prevent the open shops from competing with the unions? They should be able to easily undercut the labor costs, right?

    how do open shops validate the experience and skill of their workers?

    are there defined job descriptions that have to be met and if so.. how do the open shops prove the qualifications of their workers?

    I would think this would be a very easy way to seriously kneecap the open shops since the unions have formal certification standards.

    who defines the experience and skill requirements?

  12. Larry, in the private sector, labor unions and management have traditionally battled about who gets how much of the pie, but they both need to be careful that they don’t get so greedy that the pie gets smaller. I have no problem with this. There are checks and balances.
    In the public sector, which includes MWAA, there is no counter-balance. MWAA doesn’t care about cost-control. MWAA is not accountable to voters. I had an MWAA board member tell me they did not need to follow state open meeting and FOIA laws. We are above the law. There I have a problem with any mandatory or bonus-for-unions plan. If an individual union shop wins a contract, I don’t care. It’s about dividing up the pie. FDR was right; there is no place for unions in the public sector and where public dollars are at stake.
    I still have not been clear on unions and the Democrats. I am not complaining here about unions giving to Democrats exclusively. But they shouldn’t whine when GOP office holders give them nothing. It’s like the Koch Brothers complaining Martin O’Malley won’t help them. That’s all I am saying.

  13. larryg Avatar

    and I agree with you TMT but the MWAA problem applies to both corporations and unions… right?

    isn’t there also crony capitalism going on in MWAA?

  14. larryg Avatar

    ” Larry, how many non-union companies have to deal with strikes and walk outs?”

    they walk out … I’ve seen it happen on highway projects where (for instance), the contractor was under heavy deadline with penalties and the utilities had not been moved (as promised) they tried to renegotiate the penalties and the State said no dice and he walked.

    this happens. check out the concerns of the contractors on the Cville Bypass.

    If a contractor encounters something beyond his control and he’s on a time deadline… the govt often says “tough cookies, we can’t exceed our budget”.

  15. Fine, the contracting authority (MWAA, whomever) needs to put performance guidelines into the contract, along with penalty clauses in case of non-performance. If the open-shop company has labor problems and fails to meet the deadlines, then it pays up.

    Have another non-problem?

  16. larryg Avatar

    but isn’t that the entire intent of the PLA anyhow – to establish procedures for labor standards and work flow?

    if the open-shop does not pay up and/or walks.. at a critical point.. it can cascade into other problems.

    I think the PLA is about much more than just unions and I think the clown show did not see beneath the union issue

  17. larryg Avatar

    re: how much the unions give to political. Since the GOP has basically declared war on unions in general , this should be no surprise. I would be like the Koch boys giving the Dems money.

    there’s nary a union vote to be bought on the GOP side.

  18. Larry, you will not find me defending crony capitalism. If I were president, every company getting a bailout would be required to pay its officers on the SES schedule, employees on the GS schedule and add a notation on all communications. This business received a taxpayer subsidy. It all goes away when and only when the loans are paid back in full.

  19. HardHatMommy Avatar

    Why must everything be about politics? This issue is about real people. But it’s been hijacked by politics.

    MWAA’s PLA hurts real people. It discriminates. We aren’t supposed to do that in 2012.

    IF THERE IS A PLA ON THE JOB, SKILLED UNION WORKERS WILL WORK ON THE JOB and perhaps nonunion workers will too … after they are processed through the union hall (no membership dues because that would violate RtW, but plenty of slush funds to pay into in which they receive no benefit plus a myriad of other complications and inefficiencies and it will cost the taxpayers more to muddle through all the ridiculous details and it will drive certain companies away even if they are desperate for work right now).

    IF THERE IS NOT A PLA DUE TO THE COMSTOCK BILL, SKILLED UNION WORKERS WILL WORK ON THE JOB … and they will be joined by their equally skilled nonunion workers.

    NO MATTER WHAT, UNION WORKERS WILL WORK ON THIS JOB. The debate is over whether nonunion workers will be free to work on the project as they did, free of a PLA, on Phase 1.

    On Phase 1, with the voluntary PLA, 58% of the workforce is nonunion. Bottom line is that the Comstock bill does NOT prevent union workers from working on the job. It opens the door for BOTH union and nonunion to compete for work.

    This is all so stupid. Why won’t MWAA move forward like they did with Phase 1 and let the winning contractor decide what is best? They are putting Rail to Loudoun in jeopardy. Why are they so hell-bent on giving this favor to unions and hurting so many others in the process?


    It makes me sick that anyone, regardless of stupid political affiliation, would claim that this is anti-union.

    People need to kick their close-minded ideology and look at what is real. They need to care about how real people are affected. Mandatory PLAs are by their nature close-minded, discriminatory and an offense against freedom.

    This debate is just as sick as the extra special stupid ultrasound bill.

    Larry, with respect …
    I explained to you a month ago that Fed Ex is actually nonunion. What’s the big deal? I like both Fed Ex and UPS. Don’t you? Who the hell cares whether they are union or not. How is that relevant? Why are you so determined to box this issue into some ideological framework?

  20. larryg Avatar

    wHOA HHM! I and folks who think like I do did NOT go to the gov or the GA to put anti-union provisions in the project.

    that’s what made it political.

    Me pointing this out …that it has become political is not what made it political.

    In fact, I decry the overall politicalization of unions … car unions, teacher unions, PLAs, etc. There are some bad unions, no question just as there are some bad actors in the world of corporate but there are also lots of fine unions that get along fine with the companies whose workers they represent.

    I support the rights of workers to bargain collectively as a group. Many abuses occur when workers are essentially independent contractors.

  21. HardHatMommy Avatar

    Larry, Where is the anti-union provision?

    A PLA is anti-nonunion.

    Not having a PLA puts union and nonunion on the exact same footing – no special treatment for anyone. Why do you think protecting nonunion from discrimination is somehow the same as being anti-union?

    What does this have to do with collective bargaining? Isn’t that the right of the unions? How does that play into the PLA? I don’t understand the relation. The PLA is about WHO can work on the project – just unions or both unions and nonunions.

  22. larryg Avatar

    ” The PLA is about WHO can work on the project – just unions or both unions and nonunions.”

    do PLAs explicitly outlaw non-union labor?

    I’m just trying to understand here and my sense is that the actual requirements are not the same as the narrative… do PLAs say you can’t work unless you are union? Can you show me where it says that in the MWAA PLA?

  23. HardHatMommy Avatar

    No they don’t outlaw union labor. For instance, Denny Martire of LiUNA and MWAA, who many have come to know through this situation, specifically said recently that SOME non-union labor could work on the job, then with that smile of his, added, IF they are processed through and approved by the union hall. They would not have to pay dues (that would be illegal in Virginia), but otherwise, they could, for this job, become quasi-union. This is a very unattractive proposition. I would be scared to go through with it. You are basically going in as a quasi “scab”. And imagine being a journeyman with years of experience and the same DOL approved training under your belt as your union friend, having to get some kind of thumbs up from some union boss that you are good enough. (Imagine you went to UVA, but were told that only William & Mary grads get to go straight to work, UVA grads have to approved by the William & Mary dean before they get to go to work). It’s offensive at best.

    Anyways, Virginia has had a great history of union and nonunion working really well together but I think this could break the camel’s back. Can you imagine how uncomfortable it would be if your company made you go through that hall and wait in line to get placed on the job? And what about your team you are trained to work with? They are dispersed. Nonunion firms work like little mini football teams. There is a coach and quarterback who the crew knows and trusts and a lot of care goes into pulling together these teams. Going into the single file line union hall/ go to the back of the line / wait for your turn is a huge culture shock. Nobody should be forced to do that when they made a decision to not work for a union.

    I’m going to go off on a tangent, I can’t help it … So in our industry, safety made huge strides – if you saw a graph of the Hoover Dam days versus today, you would say, wow, that’s a lot of progress. But we have hit a plateau. Our industry (I’m talking commercial/industrial/institutional, not home builders) has every tool. We have OSHA, we have rules, we have training, we have personal safety equipment. So what is missing? The industry has pulled behavioral psychologists into the mix and we are learning that the missing component is psychological. Accidents turn out to have more to do with human choices then a lack of rules, enforcement, policies, training, equipment. So to overcome that, the industry is teaching its leaders to get onto the jobsite and start rewarding those who make positive safety choices in an effort to squelch the macho man syndrome … remember men still dominate this industry. We need to make it cool to be safe (as silly as that sounds). And we need to take a page out of what the military does and create an environment where every person on the job feels like it is their mission to keep their co-workers safe. That means, telling your big burly sidekick to get his safety glasses on now because he would be a fool to risk injuring his eyes and not being able to see his beautiful kids Johhny and Jane and his pretty wife Mary. That means teaching everyone that you are a hero for reporting a crack in concrete to the engineer and telling everyone on site about that situation even though it turned out to be nothing at all. This is the area that those using this new approach see the greatest energy. Construction teams are starting their day with jobsite meetings with a promise that everyone is going home to their families at the end of the day. They know each other’s families. They are comrades. What happens when you break that team up and disperse them through a union hall line? The union has a brotherhood kind of feeling that helps with behavioral safety. But when you add the nonunion scabs into the mix, what happens? Maybe it’s the mom in me, but I don’t like it one bit. I think we always need to do everything we can to create that sense of family on the jobsite. It is the missing element that can save lives.

    Enough with my tangent. Back to this stupid PLA.

    The MWAA PLA is not published. The one that Denny passed around to the board is available online. That one includes slush funds, one of which has the mission of public relations efforts against nonunion firms. That’s awesome, isn’t it. I doubt they would actually let that get into the real PLA. Comical that he included it though in his draft.

    I think Denny’s quote from the Examiner sums it up well. He said, “All this does is establish worker rules and where you get your workers from.” He has not given the details, but it is common for PLAs to allow a small percentage of nonunion workforce to be used as I described above. It won’t be close to 100% and it won’t be your team. He has indicated he will allow nonunion firms to pull out a handful of people they deem to be superstars / almost management and directly manage them outside of the hall. Sometimes this can be worked out and sometimes it can’t. You just have to hope the language in the PLA and the union boss in charge is willing to allow exceptions.

    Does that answer your question? Without seeing the exact terms of this particular PLA, it is hard to know the exact answers. Denny has been pretty clear though that he is going to allow some nonunion (if the local union boss approves). But they will go to the back of the line and their employers will temporarily lose the freedom to manage those individuals as a team during the project.

    Contrary to popular belief, most contractors who do this big work have pretty decent benefits. They have to compete with unions and with other industries to get good people and there is a shortage of skilled workers in our world today. Those nonunion contractors are going to pay into the health and welfare funds of the unions but their people won’t see the benefits; they won’t be vested. So they will continue paying into health and 401K etc. So who pays for the double benefits contributions? You guessed it, taxpayer and toll road user. Just another reason that it costs more to work a PLA job. You have to write that stuff into your price.

    Larry, what have you done to me? This may be the most scatterbrained thing I’ve written thus far. I wish I had more time. But I don’t. Hopefully this helps you further understand what this all means behind the rhetoric.

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