Contractors sue Penn Hills schools to block agreement

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by Christian Morrow
Courier Staff Writer

The same group of independent contractors who sued to stop the Community College of Allegheny County from entering into a Project Labor Agreement that would require union labor on the K. Leroy Irvis Science Center project, has filed a similar suit against the Penn Hills School District.

The Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Pennsylvania filed suit claiming the school board used a biased report to justify voting to establish a Project Labor Agreement with building trade unions for its upcoming high school construction. The study cost $15,000.

The suit calls the agreement discriminatory because 85 percent of building contractors are non-union and would not be able to work on the project. The suit asks for an injunction to halt a planned Oct. 16 due date for construction bids.

School board President Joe Bailey, who is Black, said before he voted for the PLA, he was assured by the building trades that minority participation would be “substantial.” Since then, he has received a substantial number of letters, phone calls and e-mails from residents who do not favor a union-only project.

“It has become apparent that there is a huge number of non-union workers in the district and minority workers in the district who would be kept out with a PLA,” he said. “We didn’t hear this ahead of the vote, all of this cane up at the final hour. I would think we should have had this info two years ago.”

In an Oct. 4 press release, ABC said the study used by the Penn Hills School Board was conducted by Keystone Research Center. The group said it is biased and discriminatory because “the Keystone Research Center’s board consists of many union affiliates including: The American Federation of Labor and Con­gress of Industrial Organizations, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union.”

“We are filing an injunction in order to keep markets open to all construction companies,” said ABC president and former Allegheny County councilwoman, Eileen Watt. “This so-called study blatantly favors unions. Thirteen of the 15 keystone board members are affiliated with unions.”

“Penn Hills tried to pass off a biased study as an independent study, and the taxpayers and students of the district deserve better,” said ABC Chairman Bob Glancy, who’s construction company did the renovation work on the district’s Linton Middle School.

“We did presentations for the McKeesport and Bethel Park school boards on the same night that the unions made their pitches for PLAs, and both boards voted against it,” he said, adding the board “failed to do its homework.”

Watt said non-union contractors would be able to hire local and minority employers that would not be able to work on the project if it were union only.

The district is already two years into a massive $130 million reconfiguration plan that has already closed several elementary schools and includes building a new high school.

The PLA will force all bidding contractors to hire only union workers, rather than paying their own employees the prevailing wage.

ABC filed a similar injunction against CCAC in August, prompting a halt to bids on the Irvis center project and a review of all CCAC contracting and bidding practices.

Louis “Hop” Kendrick, who highlighted the CCAC bid problem in his New Pittsburgh Courier column, said while he’s not against unions, he thinks Blacks would have a better opportunity to work on the project if it were an open shop.

“Generally, the unions don’t let us work, and have denied us work over the years,” said Kendrick.

Bailey said he expected to be briefed by District Solicitor Craig Alexander on the legal options, but could not say as of Courier deadline if the bid deadline would be withdrawn.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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