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Union 'scheme' eliminates 70% of workers from bid competition

(Photo courtesy Pixabay)

An electrical contractor whose workers often take on major projects in Minneapolis is challenging in federal court the local school district’s rejection of his bids in favor of union workers.

“With 75 buildings and 35,000 students, there’s plenty of construction work in the Minneapolis School District,” explains the Pacific Legal Foundation.

“But many hardworking Minnesotans never get a shot at a school project. In 2004, the district adopted a project labor agreement, or PLA, that favors politically powerful unions over nonunion contractors. This type of agreement forces firms bidding on government contracts to pay money to a union and hire workers from them to get the job.

“As a result, nonunion employees are punished for choosing not to join a union, taxpayer costs increase by millions, and the district doesn’t always get the most qualified and responsible low bidders.”

The case was filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota by the foundation on behalf of Associated Builders and Contractors as well as Laketown Electric Corp.

It names as defendants Minneapolis Public Schools and Nelson Inz, the chairman of the board of education.

“More than 70 percent of hardworking Minnesotans choose not to join a union, yet these same workers are punished by unfair labor arrangements like this PLA,” said PLF attorney Wen Fa. “The Supreme Court said in Janus that this unfair cronyism is unlawful. We look forward to leveling the playing field for Minnesota workers and taxpayers alike.”

The foundation explained Matt Bergman is an electrical contractor whose 110 nonunion employees are “among those squeezed out of public school jobs.”

They are not allowed even to bid on school jobs because the district allows only unions to take such jobs.

“Today, his talented, hardworking employees perform the electrical work on large commercial and government projects, from breweries and restaurants to courthouses and police stations. Matt takes particular pride in the work his employees do on schools – they just wrapped up a 130,000-square-foot charter school in St. Paul that was completely engineered, designed, and built by his firm,” the foundation  said.

But the district adopted a PLA “that favors political powerful unions over nonunion contractors.

“As a result, PLAs punish nonunion employees, raise taxpayer costs for school projects by millions of dollars, and the district doesn’t always get the most qualified and responsible low bidders,” Pacific Legal said.

“My employees are being denied opportunities just because they choose to work for a non-union company,” Bergmann said. “We shouldn’t be forced to choose between doing excellent work for Minnesota taxpayers and doing what’s best for our employees.”

The case asks for a court to declare as unconstitutional the deal granting union hires special privileges to obtain district work. It also asks for orders to open up the bidding process to others, and lawyers fees and costs.

“The requirement that contractors hire from union halls advances no legitimate governmental interest. Any interest in preventing work stoppages and ensuring the timely completion of projects could be satisfied with contractual provisions between a contractor and the Minneapolis Public School district,” the filing explains.

The restriction violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment, as well as the free association and free speech clauses of the First Amendment, the complaint contends.

“If a public entity like the Minneapolis Public School District required Republican contractors to hire workers from Democratic hiring halls, or establish a fund to benefit the Democratic Party in order to work on a project, there is no doubt that the requirement would violate the 1st and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution. The district’s discrimination against merit-shop contractors and their employees is no less unconstitutional,” the filing says.