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Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller has successfully intervened to ensure unions have a guaranteed role in major city construction projects.
After the City Council voted earlier this month to repeal 2021 legislation that required project labor agreements on the biggest public works projects, Keller countered with a veto.
His veto returned to the council Monday night for a potential override, but the legislative body lacked the six votes needed to supersede Keller.
Only five councilors – Brook Bassan, Renee Grout, Trudy Jones, Dan Lewis and Louie Sanchez – supported the override. The same five had previously voted for the repeal.
Isaac Benton, Pat Davis, Tammy Fiebelkorn and Klarissa Peña voted against the override, giving Keller his third veto victory out of four tries in about a month’s time.
“I want to thank the councilors who upheld the veto tonight for standing up for our taxpayers and our workers,” Keller said in a statement. “Project Labor Agreements have been used to ensure quality and accountability on civic projects from the Hoover Dam to the Kennedy Space Center, and we’ll use them in Albuquerque to build our city and strengthen pathways to good careers.”
The original bill, enacted last December, requires a PLA – defined as “pre-hire collective bargaining agreement with one or more labor organizations” or their representatives – on city construction projects that cost at least $10 million and use workers from three or more crafts.
There are two projects of that scale on tap this year, city officials have said. There were five over the $10 million threshold last year.
Non-union contractors can still bid on and win the big jobs but would still have to execute a PLA.
Construction and development industry representatives urged the council Monday to override Keller, arguing that the PLA requirement is unfair.
“Mandating project labor agreements disproportionately disadvantages most of our trades workforce by failing to give them equal access to city contracts,” said Rhiannon Samuel of NAIOP New Mexico, the commercial real estate development association.
But union members – who spoke as dozens of their peers in the audience stood in solidarity – argued that the agreements ensure apprenticeship and workforce development and keep contractors from misclassifying workers to pay them less than the applicable prevailing wage.
A few also took issue with Councilor Sanchez’s comments during the Council’s last meeting, specifically when he said – after noting that he’s been both a Teamster and a member of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association – “there’s a lot of slugs in the union.”
“I choose to forgive you for what you said, but I will never forget and neither will our membership,” Bobby Baca of IBEW 611 told Sanchez while addressing the council. “What you said about union workers is totally wrong, and I believe you owe a public apology to everybody standing in this room.”
Sanchez addressed the criticism prior to the override vote.
“To make it clear, I didn’t call each and every one of you a slug – that’s not what my comment was,” he said. “My comment was that I’ve been in unions before, and I’ve been in unions that have had slugs that worked for them.”