Juneau Assembly Unanimously Confirms Support For Project Labor Agreements

The Coral Princess Cruise ship prepares to dock in Juneau. Photo by Heather Bryant, KTOO - Juneau.
The Coral Princess Cruise ship prepares to dock in Juneau. Photo by Heather Bryant, KTOO – Juneau.

The Juneau Assembly wants the city’s Docks and Harbors Department to reconsider its decision not to use a Project Labor Agreement for a major rebuild of the city’s downtown cruise ship docks scheduled to get underway next year.

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Docks and Harbors last month bid the project without a PLA, breaking from a longstanding city policy to use the agreements to the fullest extent of the law. The Assembly on Monday unanimously confirmed that policy.

Randy Wanamaker was in his first stint on the Juneau Assembly in 2008 when the original policy statement supporting Project Labor Agreements was adopted. In fact, he offered the motion then, and says it was meant to apply to all city departments and enterprise boards.

“It comes from the Assembly. It’s not up to them to choose whether or not they wish to follow it,” Wanamaker said at this week’s Juneau Assembly meeting, where Assembly member Karen Crane introduced a motion confirming the PLA policy.

While a Project Labor Agreement does not require the city to hire a union contractor, it does set basic terms for wages, benefits and working conditions. Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl says PLA’s offer certain advantages.

“When you look at our very large projects – our projects over $10 million – the on-time performance of projects with a PLA is dramatically better, it’s night-and-day better than those without,” Kiehl said.

Crane’s motion also requested the Docks and Harbors Department engage with the Juneau Building and Trades Council to resolve any issues that would prevent a PLA on the cruise ship dock project.

Construction of two floating berths on the downtown waterfront is expected to take two years, and cost the city $54 million. Kiehl says it’s important for it to be done on time.

“We saw this year the impact – and we’ll see it in the budget – of missing cruise ships,” Kiehl noted. “They missed for mechanical reasons; some skipped Southeast communities for weather reasons. And with these dock projects we run the risk, if they are not delivered on time, of self-inflicted financial wounds.”

CBJ Port Director Carl Uchytil previously said a labor agreement was not needed for the cruise ship dock project, because the work is fairly simple and straightforward. He declined to comment Tuesday, saying he was still trying to understand the motion adopted by the Assembly.

Juneau Building and Trades Council President Tom Brice says the message he takes away, is that while CBJ enterprise boards have a lot of autonomy, they still have to follow city policy.

“Just because you’re an enterprise board, doesn’t mean that you don’t have to abide by the rules,” said Brice.

He says other CBJ enterprises, such as Bartlett Regional Hospital and the Juneau Airport, have always included PLAs in major construction projects. He says Docks and Harbors initial decision not to have an agreement for the cruise ship docks doesn’t concern him moving forward.

“No, not at all. I think the folks over at Docks and Harbors haven’t had a lot of major projects come through their store,” said Brice. “So, as they use it, it will be something that they’ll see a great deal of benefit from.”

Wanamaker, who chairs the Assembly’s Public Works and Facilities Committee, says he’ll soon begin work to standardize the city’s PLA review process. Right now it’s up to individual department heads to decide whether a project needs a labor agreement. Wanamaker believes a committee should do that analysis instead.

“So that we provide a group reviewing, rather than one person, where arbitrariness or misunderstanding may occur,” Wanamaker said.

The Assembly has asked City Attorney Amy Mead to come up with a draft review process. Courts have upheld the use of Project Labor Agreements by government entities, as long as they can justify a strong public interest.

Casey Kelly is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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