In one of their final actions before leaving office, a pair of Albuquerque city councilors are pushing to make unions part of all major municipal government construction projects.
Councilors Cynthia Borrego and Lan Sena are sponsoring legislation requiring project labor agreements on public works projects expected to cost at least $10 million and employ workers from at least three crafts. A PLA is a “pre-hire collective bargaining agreement with one or more labor organizations or with their representatives that establishes the terms and conditions of employment” on a specific project, according to the bill. General contractors who successfully win applicable city projects would have to execute a PLA that governs all construction work.
The council is scheduled to vote on the bill Monday.
Supporters say it will enhance transparency and ensure that a properly trained and compensated workforce builds city facilities.
But a local construction industry representative is calling it unfair and “anti-competitive” and questioning why there has not been more public discussion.
Carla Kugler, president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors’ New Mexico chapter, said she only learned of the proposal a few weeks ago.
“Something so controversial and something that has this much impact on the construction community should be worth investing a little time and thought in it,” Kugler said.
The bill was formally introduced without discussion at the last council meeting, on Nov. 15, and has not been heard by a council committee ahead of Monday’s planned decision.
Sena and Borrego are in their final month in office as both lost in the Nov. 2 election.
Borrego’s office told the Journal she was unavailable for an interview about the bill. She instead sent a written statement, saying the legislation would commit the city “to project labor from NM Building and Construction Trades Council — New Mexico labor. It will ensure experienced and professional labor-qualified and certified workers build City projects and that the City constructs the highest quality infrastructure and projects.”
Sena disputes that it is being rushed, telling the Journal she started evaluating the idea a year ago and that similar legislation has been debated locally before.
“This isn’t anything new, especially since the county has participated in this as well,” she said in an interview.
The Bernalillo County Commission passed a similar ordinance in 2020, though it has not yet applied the new requirement to any projects.
Over the past three fiscal years, the city has had six projects that would have met the requirements for a PLA as outlined in the proposal, a city spokeswoman said.
Sena said she supports PLAs because they clearly outline the terms of each project, whether it’s worker pay and benefits or management rights, but also because the city would require each agreement to include an apprenticeship component, which she said will help boost the local workforce. She said that’s especially critical.
“PLAs provide stability, predictability and diversification of our local jobs and training a labor force,” she said.
She said the legislation would not prevent non-union firms from winning jobs as long as they enter into the requisite PLA, but Kugler describes the proposal as “a handout for organized labor forced upon our construction community and workforce,” noting that more than 90% of the local industry’s worker pool is not currently part of a union.
She disagrees with the notion that such agreements are needed to ensure contractors pay workers properly based on their training and experience.
“There is oversight (already),” she said. “The Department of Workforce Solutions oversees everybody’s pay — union and non-union.”
She said she also has questions about what such agreements might ultimately look like. While Bernalillo County released a draft agreement when it was considering its legislation, Kugler said she’s asked Borrego for something similar and has not heard back.
“There’s a lot of unknowns,” she said.
The bill is likely to face at least some opposition on the City Council.
Councilor Trudy Jones called the proposal “short-sighted,” saying she feels it would unnecessarily pit one part of the workforce against another.
“I’m not opposed to unions,” she said. “I just believe that we shouldn’t interfere this way.”
But one local electrical/mechanical contractor said he supports PLAs. Troy Beall, CEO of B&D Industries, said his firm currently employs about 700 union members, and he believes a union workforce is better trained. He noted that his firm was called in as a subcontractor to help finish an over-budget and delayed Albuquerque International Sunport renovation a few years ago after the first electrical subcontractor walked off the job.
“I have a 40-year history in this community, and I don’t know of a job that’s ever failed (under a collective bargaining agreement). It’s because we agree to a contract with individuals for our employees,” Beall said. “The union has been very good for our corporation.”