Despite opposition voiced by a dozen contractors who employ non-union workers and the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce, the Schuylkill County Commissioners, by a two to one vote, adopted the Project Labor Agreement (PLA) pertaining to the pre-release prison center construction project in action taken at the public meeting held Wednesday at the courthouse in Pottsville.
Commissioners Mantura Gallagher and Francis McAndrew, the Democratic majority commissioners, voted for the job be done strictly by union workers while Minority Commissioner Frank Staudenmeier, a Republican, opposed the agreement. Final say still depends on the U.S. Department of Agriculture, from whom the commissioners are receiving a loan to finance the project.
The commissioners, also by the same two to one vote, are now asking for bids for construction of the pre-release center to be constructed adjoining the state correctional institution in the northern part of Ryan Township near Frackville. Bids will be accepted by the controller's office up to and including March 21 and the bid opening will be at the commissioners meeting on March 23.
Dennis Moyer, a contractor, spoke on behalf of the opposition group, presenting the commissioners with a petition signed by 200 supporters not to approve the PLA agreement. He claimed the PLA agreement is a discrimination not allowing all contractors to bid on the project. He said they employ top skilled workers and assure safety and performance standards are complied.
Staudenmeier commented that the commissioners should do what it is found equitable to all parties. McAndrew agreed there should be a level playing field but based on his personal experience he favored the PLA plan pointing out in the past how jobs have been taken away from county workers by immigrants. He said when the co-gen plant was being built in Berwick the area was invaded by migrant construction workers whose work was questioned because the co-gen plant almost fell apart after it was build. He also eluded to the four illegal aliens found working on a job in Pottsville last week. "I'm tired of the immigrants taking our jobs," he concluded.
The county Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to each commissioner asking them to oppose the utilization of a PLA. The chamber reported it represents 812 members including for-profit businesses, non-profit organizations, municipalities, and county government in its membership roles and believes it is very important to support business decisions that assist its members and provide the most level playing field for all businesses.
The letter stated, "A decision for County Government to implement the use of Project Labor Agreement for the proposed Pre-Release Facility project or any other project would create exclusion for the majority of members we represent. We support an open bid process and feel through open competition the most responsible bidder will win. We believe that any and all construction projects undertaken by the County of Schuylkill and awarded by the Schuylkill County Commissioners should be open to all contractors, union and non-union, and should not be subject to a PLA which require for all practical purposes, only union contractors being able and permitted to bid on any such construction project."
The request for the PLA was first presented to the commissioners two weeks ago at a work session by Dennis Keefer, president of Schuylkill County Building and Construction Trade Council, which represents 2,500 local workers in a variety of trades and said 40 percent of the members are currently out of work. He told the commissioners the PLA plan would ensure some of those workers are put back to work. He added the PLA does not exclude anyone from bidding. However, it mandates that 88 percent of the labor force on a project are union workers with the remaining 12 percent could be non-union workers.
The commissioners were also told without the plan contractors could bring workers from anywhere while county workers stay home.