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Contractors association suing the county

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

A local contractors association and several of its members are suing Bernalillo County over an ordinance that could mandate union labor on some of the county’s biggest construction projects.

The Associated Builders and Contractors of New Mexico and other plaintiffs allege in a lawsuit filed last month that the county ordinance violates workers’ rights under the U.S. Constitution and the National Labor Relations Act. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in New Mexico, also contends the ordinance discriminates against non-union contractors and thus runs afoul of the state’s competitive-bidding laws.

The plaintiffs, which include several contracting firms and some of their employees, are asking the court to stop the county from enforcing the ordinance.

ABC and others in the construction industry have been fighting the Community Workforce Ordinance since the County Commission began considering it last year.

The ordinance – which the commission ultimately passed on a 4-1 vote last September – does not preclude non-union companies from winning county jobs but does require contractors selected for major county public works projects to sign a community workforce, or project labor, agreement outlining a certain level of union worker participation on the job.

It applies only to jobs totalling more than $7 million and employing workers in at least three trades.

The commission retains discretion about when to require the agreements, even on projects that would meet the standards. In November, for example, the commission decided not to require a labor agreement for the $10.3 million Route 66 Visitor Center.

None have been mandated since the ordinance passed.

The state already sets wage rates for workers on public construction projects, but supporters of the county ordinance say it would mean all workers also get union-level benefits like health care and retirement. The ordinance requires nearly every worker on an applicable county project to pay union dues during the job; it also requires contractors to make fringe benefit contributions to the union for workers, except in certain cases when they already provide certain benefits.

But critics have argued that many non-union contractors already offer such benefits and that forced union involvement would reduce competition. They also note that union members represent just a small portion of the state’s construction workforce.

“This scheme is a handout for organized labor forced upon our construction community and workforce, more than 90% of which chooses not to join a union,” ABC New Mexico President and CEO Carla Kugler said in a written statement. “Employees will never see the benefits of this ordinance unless they stay unionized.”

The county did not specifically address the lawsuit’s claims.

“It is not appropriate for the county to address this litigation, at this time,” spokesman Tom Thorpe said in a written statement. “The county strives to serve the taxpayers and its citizens by creating job readiness training, maintaining good labor management relations in the community, and ensuring construction quality in its public works infrastructure.”

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