Big Labor's Grip

Like a diamond in the rough, the Waterbury Republican American newspaper in the heart of Big Labor Connecticut is willing to stand up for taxpayers against the political power of union bosses even when the politicians won’t. Their latest editorial about the construction of a local elementary school is a perfect example.

Confronted last week with a choice between giving taxpayers less and adopting a risk-free strategy with high potential to give taxpayers more, Waterbury’s Board of Education gave taxpayers less, possibly at a higher price.

Members were shocked when bids for Gilmartin Elementary School renovations came in $7.5 million over the expected $26.2 million budget. The proposal called for a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) that effectively excluded nonunion contractors from bidding. Independent and Republican board members, joined by an unaffiliated member and a lonely Democrat, Coleen Flaherty-Merritt, wanted to drop the PLA for the Gilmartin project. The board owes it to taxpayers “to look at every factor we can to bring (the project) in on time and on budget,” unaffiliated board member Ann M. Sweeney said at the Sept. 2 meeting.

Nobody knows whether the union-only provision inflated the price. But the answer is simple enough to find: let union and nonunion contractors compete as equals. The numbers will tell the tale.

Unfortunately for the taxpayers of Connecticut, the Board of Education knows that competition will bring lower costs to most any project including the construction of local schools. But with the power of local union bosses, most politicians refuse to cross them:

The five Democrats who remained in lockstep after Ms. Flaherty-Merritt broke ranks produced a 5-5 tie vote Sept. 2, leaving the PLA intact. As an ex officio member of the board, Mayor Michael J. Jarjura could have broken the tie, but he did not attend. Having settled the PLA issue, the board approved, 7-3, a plan to bring forward a cheaper design.