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Editorial: BernCo’s proposed CWA not best way to protect workers

As a taxpayer, do you want the crew that does the best job for the best price to build your infrastructure and get your hard-earned tax dollars?

Or one that shells out money to a union?

Of course the two are not mutually exclusive, but under the proposed Community Workforce Ordinance, co-sponsored by Commissioners Debbie O’Malley and Jim Collie and on the County Commission agenda tonight, the latter would be a requirement.

The ordinance would essentially require union participation in large county projects. And that would stifle competition and drive construction costs up as much as 18%, insist officials with the Associated Builders and Contractors New Mexico and Northern N.M. Independent Electrical Contractors.

Under the proposal, contractors and subcontractors selected for county construction projects costing at least $5 million and employing skilled workers in three or more crafts would have to execute a community workforce agreement, also known as a project labor agreement, which dictates a certain amount of union worker participation.

Never mind that more than 90% of New Mexico’s private construction workforce does not belong to a union. Or that the county could skip the union mandate and require contractors to provide health insurance and time-off benefits.

Which O’Malley says is the intent of the ordinance.

Never mind that, according to Carla Kugler, president and CEO of the builders and contractors’ N.M. chapter, and Ron Alley, executive director of the northern N.M. electrical contractors’ group, most members already provide health care and other fringe benefits to employees. Kugler correctly says contractors should be able to staff a project how they want, with quality work and affordable prices being the paramount concerns.

Requiring health care might be the smart thing to do, saving taxpayers from picking up uninsured tabs in case of job site injury. Ditto for retirement, as a majority of New Mexicans have little-to-nothing put by for their so-called golden years.

But even supporters of the ordinance concede non-union workers could get less money in their paychecks to pay for fringe benefits they may not need or want. And Kugler says requiring contractors to fill union slots on CWA job sites would not only weed out many of New Mexico’s smaller contractors, it would also require the county to seek more out-of-state contractors who meet the CWA requirements. It’s not exactly New Mexico True to reserve our local public works jobs for out-of-state contractors.

It would be interesting to know if O’Malley or Collie have ever required their roofing, lawn maintenance or plumbing companies to provide proof their workers have union-level health care and retirement benefits.

Wanting to provide skilled workers with fair pay and benefits is laudable, but there is already a state-established prevailing wage, and benefits should not require union dues. Our elected leaders have a fiduciary responsibility to deliver taxpayers the best bang for their bucks. That should take precedence.

The proposed ordinance is clearly intended to provide an advantage to union contractors, at the expense of the industry’s majority of non-union craftspeople as well as taxpayers. This kind of social engineering has no place in public projects and needs to be defeated in the interest of taxpayers and workers alike.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.