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First county CWA yet to be implemented

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Major Bernalillo County construction projects are supposed to require union involvement – and worker benefits – under an ordinance the county commission passed in September.

But the first eligible project to break ground since the new law took effect is getting a pass on the new standard.

The commission earlier this month voted not to apply the county’s fresh Community Workforce Agreement ordinance to the West Central Route 66 Visitor Center, exercising discretion the law affords the elected body.

The ordinance calls for a CWA on projects that cost at least $7 million and employ workers from three or more crafts. The selected contractor – who may or may not be a union shop – must execute a CWA, or project labor agreement, that dictates some level of union member participation and ensures benefits for workers on the site.

The visitor center will cost about $11.6 million, according to county staff estimates. The county has $11.7 million available, including contributions from the county, City of Albuquerque and the state.

County Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada, who represents the district where the visitor center will go, said the new CWA requirement could introduce unknowns into the project already years in the making. He said he worried about costs and delays and pleaded with his commission colleagues to not require the CWA, saying he feared that the project might die if construction bids come in above the available funding. Quezada – who voted for the CWA two months ago – also raised concerns about applying the new county requirements to a project that received funding from other government sources.

State law sets the wage rates on public works projects, so labor costs should not change regardless of a CWA.

But Deputy County Manager for Public Works Elias Archuleta told the commission that the county is “pioneering” a process and that contractors perceive changes in how they do business as a risk.

“We don’t know if or how much it will raise the price, but due to the fact we’re changing the rules under which they bid a project, we’re expecting that we will see some increase … with regard to the estimate we had already prepared,” he said.

The commission backed up Quezada, voting 4-1 to not require a CWA on the visitor center. Only Debbie O’Malley, who had sponsored the CWA ordinance, voted the opposite.

ALVARADO DOUGH: The price of Bernalillo County’s new Downtown headquarters project has jumped once again.

The county commission on Nov. 10 approved a $1.2 million change order with HB Construction, increasing the contract to $55.6 million and raising Bernalillo County @ Alvarado Square’s total price tag – including property acquisition and other costs – to $66.5 million.

Unlike other expenses, the newly approved $1.2 million comes from the county’s federal CARES Act coronavirus relief and covers workplace changes necessitated by COVID-19 but not contemplated in the original budget. That includes partitions and expenses tied to sanitization, teleconferencing and signage, according to the change order.

The county’s new headquarters, located in the Alvarado Square building at 415 Silver SW, should be done in early 2021.

Jessica Dyer: jdyer@abqjournal.com

 

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