MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." On today's show, we're playing games. We already got to play some old school video games at the Smithsonian and coming up in just a bit, we'll hear about some games we humans are playing with mother nature. First, though, we get a play by play on a game of political chicken in Virginia, one that threatens to delay the next round of the $3 billion Dulles Metro Rail project. And that's the topic of our weekly transportation segment, "From A to B."
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
The dispute concerns the use of union workers on the project and it's pitting some political heavy weights against each other. Transportation reporter Martin Di Caro is here to tell us all about it. Martin, welcome.
MR. MARTIN DI CARO
All right. So who exactly are these political heavy weights?
So on one side, we have Virginia Republicans who control the general assembly and on the other side, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and the Laborers International Union of North America. And the outcome of this dispute could directly affect commuters who use the Dulles toll road.
And I want to ask you about that. We'll get to that in just a minute. But first, can you explain what these two sides are fighting about?
The dispute is over what's called a PLA, Project Labor Agreement. Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation and Governor McDonnell intends to sign it, would withdraw the state's $150 million contribution for Dulles phase 2. Republicans are against the proposal to give contractors a 10 percent bonus on their technical evaluations, if they choose to enter into a PLA meaning, if they go with union labor. And Republicans say, such an incentive to use unions violates Virginia's right to work law by discriminating against non-union labor. Ninety-seven percent of Virginia's construction workforce is not in a union and that's why so many top officials in Virginia oppose this plan.
Okay, so how is the Airports Authority, also known by one of my personal favorite acronyms, MWAA responding to all this?
I spoke with the authorities President and CEO, Jack Potter, and he gave no indication the board of directors is leaning toward reversing its decision.
MR. JACK POTTER
The position that we have evolved to is a very reasonable position. Personally, I believe that it would be a real shame if this project would be delayed because of the Project Labor Agreement.
The Airports Authority's board of directors voted unanimously 11-0, including former Republican Congressman Tom Davis, in favor of the PLA that offers this incentive to use union labor.
So what about union leaders? What role are they playing in this fight? Are they talking publicly about this issue?
Union leaders say, Virginia Republicans are doing the bidding of what they call, anti-union contractor groups like the associated builders and contractors, that have donated to their political campaigns. The lead sponsors of the legislation to withdraw the state's $150 million contribution are republican delegates Barbara Comstock and Tim Hugo. Since 2002, the associated builders and contractors have given Hugo $1,500 in campaign donations. From all general contractors, he's received $12,250. But the delegate says he's not anti-union. Here's his response.
MR. TIM HUGO
This has nothing to do with contributions. This has to do with making sure that unions and non-union companies have a level playing field. And that's what we want to do. And that's what I want to do.
And what about Comstock then?
Since 2009, the associated builders and contractors of Virginia have donated $1,500 to her, from all general contractors, she's received $19,500 and this is her response to the charge that she's anti-union.
MS. BARBARA COMSTOCK
That's absolutely false. We're doing the work for Virginia workers and to make sure Virginia workers and Virginia taxpayers get the most out of their tax dollars.
One important note, the contractors who've made donations have used union and non-union work forces over the years.
So let's talk now about the cost of the Dulles Metro project. What will all of this mean when it comes to that total cost?
The Airports Authority just released a new cost estimate of $2.7 billion and the Authority says, using union workers would not dramatically impact the cost of the project. However the associated builders and contractors says, using a Project Labor Agreement increases such projects, 12-18 percent in cost. And there's also the issue of competition. Virginia Republicans say, using a PLA would restrict competition on the bid. Brian Petruska who's the general counsel for the labor union, Laborers International, says a PLA is not hurting the competitive bidding process.
MR. BRIAN PETRUSKA
MWAA already knows that there are about eight teams who are planning to put in bids, eight teams is robust competition on a project of this size. That is going to be plenty to get a competitive, you know, rock bottom market price based upon competitive bidding and the people who have the best teams and the best technology.
Okay, Martin, I'm sure a lot of people listening right now are probably thinking, you know, how is this going to affect me? Someone who might just be trying to get to work or to the airport, where does it leave all of us who actually use that road?
So we have this complex issue, Project Labor Agreements, $2.7 billion project, Virginia threatening to withdraw its money. The Airports Authority says, if Virginia goes ahead and does that, tolls on the Dulles toll road would go up to a round trip of about $9, starting next year.
Well, that will definitely get the attention of people who are using that road and we will definitely keep our eye on this issue. Martin Di Caro, thank you so much for joining us today.
Any time, Rebecca.
If you'd like to weigh in on the fight over unionized labor on the Dulles Metro project, send us an email. Our address is email@example.com. And you can read more about the ongoing controversy on our website, that's metroconnection.org.
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