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Court Overturns Springfield Project Labor Agreement

A Superior Court judge today issued a preliminary injunction against the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission from proceeding with a union-only Project Labor Agreement on the $256 million West Parish Water Treatment Plant project.


The Merit Construction Alliance, along with merit shop contractors and allies, filed suit in Hampden Superior Court seeking intervention to prevent the discrimination against merit shops and their employees. Justice Michael K. Callan granted the preliminary injunction on May 16, two days after the non-evidentiary hearing.


Click below to read the ruling.


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Highlights of the ruling:


PLAs violate the letter and spirit of state bidding laws.


"Notwithstanding the lip service the PLA pays to being open to all bidders, it most assuredly is not. The evidence before the court is that the PLA poses such a significant disadvantage to open shops as to render a competitive bid impossible. Certainly, in theory, Griffin and others can bid on the Project, but it is bidding blindly, and utterly defies common sense and logic to think that it is a real chance on "equal footing." No reasonable, otherwise highly qualified contractor or subcontractor would entertain such a colossal risk. For all intents and purposes, the PLA excludes open shops from bidding, as it essentially requires bidders to execute an agreement to use union laborers on the Project."


Fear of labor unrest is not enough to justify a PLA.


"No detailed focus on labor history was present here, let alone discussed, during the SWSC's

proceedings. The concept of labor unrest appears to have been a fear injected into the discussion by the Trade Council, untethered to any real-life events. Notably, the SWSC has no experience with labor unrest for non-PLA jobs. Indeed, the SWSC has never bid a project with a PLA notwithstanding having been in existence for decades. The two most recent SWSC projects - one of which stretched out for years - were completed without a PLA and absent labor unrest (i.e., with labor harmony)."


Judge Callan concludes the SWSC buried the report of its engineering firm that was critical of imposing a PLA.


"On November 30, 2023, representatives of Hazen and Sawyer, an internationally reputable engineering firm and the expert design team hired and relied upon by the SWSC, provided its written opinion that adding a PLA to the Project would increase the cost by roughly $15.5 million dollars and add over 2 months to the Project schedule. Hazen and Sawyer did not then, nor did it ever, recommend a PLA for this Project. The SWSC was never provided with a countervailing independent expert analysis to rebut, question, or contradict the November 30 opinion. There is nothing in the record evidencing that the SWSC ever discussed the November 30 opinion prior to voting 2-1 on January 11, 2024, to proceed with a PLA. There is nothing in the record to indicate that the SWSC board ever received a copy of the November 30 opinion or were even told about it. Representatives of Hazen and Sawyer were never asked to present their opinions to the SWSC board, notwithstanding the remote option available for participation. The November 30 opinion was buried."


The judge points out the dishonesty of organized labor in lobbying for the PLA.


"In response to Attorney Guz's concern, it is disturbing to the court that a representative of the Pioneer Valley Building Trades Counsel told the SWSC that the Holyoke Soldiers Home project was bid with a PLA and there were "no protests." The record before me reflects that the Legislature specially authorized, indeed mandated, a PLA for the Soldiers Home bidding and construction-a fact not mentioned to, or investigated by, the SWSC. Legal counsel for the Pioneer Valley Building Trades Council later doubled down on that halftruth. Keeping in mind that the SWSC bears the burden of demonstrating a careful and reasoned process, it is significant that the SWSC did not (I) give anything remotely close to equal time or consideration to PLA opponents and/or (2) investigate or even question the claims being advanced by parties that were in effect PLA lobbyists."

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