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Council Chambers Packed With Union Workers Supporting Project Labor Agreements

PARSIPPANY — The controversy over project labor agreements overflowed the Parsippany-Troy Hills Council Chambers on Tuesday, October 11.

One Parsippany resident summed it up: “The circus was in town on Tuesday. There were strongmen, clowns, elephants and RINOs with the taxpayers facing a financial tight rope due to an unholy alliance between the Mayor and his Big Union Supporters.”

The council chambers reached occupancy and the crowd filled the hallways at Parsippany’s Municipal Building and angry residents had to wait outside because of overcrowding at the meeting.

The ordinance, 2022:24, Entitled Project Labor Agreement, was on the agenda for public discussion, and second reading and final vote will take place on Tuesday, October 18.

It is believed there will be a crowd of over 500 union members in support of this ordinance that Parsippany-Troy’s Hills Council already moved the meeting to Parsippany Hills High School, 20 Rita Drive.

Parsippany resident Nicholas Kumburis said “My concern is that it will reduce competitive pricing and thereby increasing the taxes in Parsippany. “We’ve been impacted with an increase. Our municipal budget last year went from 50 million to 58 million, increased over 14%.”

“One of my biggest concerns as I took a look at the contribution statements for Mr. Barberio (ELEC reports) from last year, total contributions for his election campaign in 2021 was $55,000. $10,000 came from ‘Operating Engineers Local 825.’   UA Plumbers Local Union 24 donated $1,000. United Building and Trade companies $6,000. He’s already started collecting for his re-election campaign in 2025. We have Local 102 PAC donating $1,500. The BAC Administrative District Council of New Jersey another $1,000, The Pipefitters Local 274, donated $500, continued Kumburis.”

Kenneth Dukes, a Parsippany resident, stated “I am going on 16 years resident.  I am in the carpenter union going on almost 30 years. And I can say that PLAs do work. I am a direct example. For a lot of the PLA jobs in Parsippany, I benefited directly through my association with the unions. Firsts they provide a safe, professional work environment for us as tradesmen. They give us a decent standard of living through the pay package, and the benefits package. Through PLAs and the opportunities that came along with them, I’ve been able to take care of my family, educate my children, purchase a home here in Parsippany.”

Parsippany-Troy Hills Councilman Justin Musella listens to the speakers at the Council Meeting of October 11

“As it stands, a thorough and competitive bidding process at the lowest responsible cost is what is best for the taxpayer. We should reject costly measures like PLAs that ultimately reduce competition, harm small businesses, and provide no real benefit to the end user — you,” stated Parsippany Councilman Justin Musella.

“We owe that to the residents, to make sure we have trained professionals do the job,” Parsippany Councilman Paul Carifi Jr. said. “I don’t want somebody that’s hired off the street, not fully trained, to build something. And they would be documented workers. They pay taxes. They are not people here illegally that are hired by people and then paid through them.”

Morris County Commissioner Tom Mastrangelo, who is running for re-election, sat in the front row of the meeting.  He spoke out to state that the County already adopted a PLA resolution this past year and that he believes in PLAs, there is a difference between a resolution and an ordinance.  A resolution is ceremonial and non-binding.  An ordinance is binding. What is being proposed in Parsippany is an ordinance.

To further clarify the County’s resolution: The Morris County resolution states that projects can be decided on a case-by-case basis.  To date, no Morris County projects have incorporated a PLA.

Parsippany resident Sean Gentile addressing the Mayor and Council

Parsippany resident Sean Gentile stated “I grew up in Lake Hiawatha, went to Parsippany High School. My family was working class; my mother was the only parent in the house after middle school and she was constantly working to provide for my sister, brother and I. That being said the cost of college always haunted me and when it came time to choose, with the help of my guidance counselor, Mrs. Bush, I decided to apply for an apprenticeship at Pipefitters Local Union 274, and it changed my life. It has given me a decent pay, health insurance, training and a resource for protection. I know for a fact these are rare things in the private sector of trades work because my brother worked with a plumbing company based in Fairfield for five years with no health insurance, stuck making the hourly rate of a first year Pipefitter apprentice. On top of that working in terrible safety conditions. He only recently joined the local after enough was enough.”

Gentile continued “I had no intention of speaking but when I heard the woman from the ABC make claims that the union was “exploiting minority workers” I became very angry. It felt like a clear projection coming from the people that exploit minority and immigrant workers the most, paying them scraps and skipping out on safety standards.”

“I felt that no one who spoke against the PLA had ever been on a job site because there is a clear distinction of union sites safety practices and a non-union. We aren’t numbers on a paper; this is our livelihood, and we should be able to make a decent living and make it home safe every night.”

“I think I’m a good example of how more quality apprenticeship opportunities through unions can help Parsippany overall. I’m able to contribute back to the town more now than I ever would if I did not have this opportunity,” he continued.

“As property owners and taxpayers here in Parsippany, the Education Fund of Pipefitters Local 274 has always and will continue to participate in the community. The apprenticeship program and Training Center we operate on Jefferson Road, brings revenue to local business and creates lasting career opportunities for Parsippany residents. This PLA helps us to continue to do just that,” stated Donald P. Byrne, Education Coordinator/Director, Pipefitters Local 274.

Samantha DeAlmeida, President and CEO, Associated Builders and Contractors

Samantha DeAlmeida, President and CEO, Associated Builders and Contractors, New Jersey Chapter, “Fewer options for Parsippany taxpayers in the choice of contractors is likely one of the reasons that the N.J. Department of Labor in its most recent study found that the use of PLA’s on construction projects increased the cost of construction by a staggering 33%, and led to significant delays in the completion of projects.  There is no contrary evidence we have seen to suggest that the results would be any different for your taxpayers, thus making the proposed ordinance a very bad value proposition for Parsippany residents.”

“It should be based on the best bid of similar skilled firms. The Council and Mayor are supposed to be fiduciaries of the taxpayer’s money and should be obligated to what is best for the taxpayers of the town. At the same time, any labor unions that contribute to any campaigns of both the Council and the Mayor should be required to return that money if the firm is bidding on any project. This would eliminate the perception of any conflict of interest,” said Parsippany resident Rob Maroldi.

Justin Musella, the only Councilman who voted against the ordinance during first reading, said Toms River posts bid results, “and the results are always the same: PLAs drive up project labor costs far beyond what the free market produces in a non-PLA bid.” The Toms River ordinance also requires 88% of hired workers to be “local.”

“Mandating PLAs on all construction projects over $5 million sentences our taxpayers to overpaying for services that could be obtained more competitively, at a time when we’re all faced with higher energy costs, bigger grocery store bills and an overall turbulent economy,” Musella said.

Michael Pulsinelli, IBEW Local 102, said “I represent 32 union electricians. I’m going to talk about PLAs. Without a PLA there’s no guarantee that the residents are participating on the project. So, there’s no Parsippany residents going to be participating on a project where they have 25% of local residents participate on a PLA job. This keeps the tax dollars in Parsippany. These benefits are often not realized by the non-union construction worker. I have the data to prove it because I’m appointed by the Building Trade State President and the Governor of New Jersey. I sit on the task force for the labor board, taxation and insurance fraud. I’m going to give you a total to date. From January 22 to July 22, prevailing public construction work sites inspected 439; Completed time and payroll inspections 523; Number of workers due back wages 958; Amount of back wages due, $3,237,799. So, 3.2 million they are robbing the workers, not paying prevailing rate, put in their pockets. And, and this is what we’re competing. If its apples the apples, we’ll blow anybody out of the water. We are the best, the most trained and the most dedicated. We have registered apprenticeship programs.”

Hank Heller, a resident of Parsippany for 52 years, said “I just wanted to say that it’s very encouraging to hear all of the union representatives speaking and telling us all about the benefit that unions and PLAs have done for them. But I think it’s very important that you look much more closely at what the costs are of using PLAs as opposed to not using PLAs. I was a member executive board member of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce for 35 years. There were many programs in Harlem that had to be rebuilt in the time that I was there. And I can tell you that the contractors and the union shops always promised to put more of the people in that minority community into their unions.

For whatever reason the right people were not found or give this training. And my point is simply I don’t begrudge any of these people here. Whatever good that has come to them and their families, I’m happy for them. But I also think that we should not put that into, our measurement of what is good for Parsippany. And I’m talking about fiscally.”

Parsippany resident Bob Venezia

Parsippany resident Bob Venezia said “Recently in the Daily Record they printed a timely article on project labor agreements, PLAs, as they’re called, and Parsippany proposed ordinance 2022:24, which would mandate PLAs on all construction projects over 5 million dollars. Besides explaining what PLAs are, the columnist also included an unbiased summary of the arguments for and against these agreements. After analyzing the pros and cons, my conclusion is that the benefits of the PLAs are overwhelmed by the extra cost that Parsippany taxpayers would incur by passage of this ordinance. Regarding PLAs the assumption is that the skill level of the workers is greater than non-PLA workers. However, I found no available evidence showing that PLA projects are any better or any safer than non-PLA projects. What is not in dispute is that PLA projects are more expensive and tend to have longer duration than non-PLA projects.”

“An October 2010 report by the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workflow Development, our state examining 2008 school construction projects found that PLA project costs were 30% higher than non-PLA projects. And that the average duration of the PLA projects was 100 weeks compared to 78 weeks for the non-PLA projects,” he continued.

Tom Williams stated “I am really a free market, competitive person all my life. 59 years of working. Always been competitive. I don’t know why we’re making a change in the bidding process. I never got an explanation for that one. And why 5 million? Why not 1 million?  Was there a problem or not? Have we done a cost analysis on this change for the next year or next five years, or can we do a beta test? Take half the sit town this way, half the other way?” He also stated “Maybe no one takes any contributions from anyone who bids on our project over $5 million. Would that be cleaner? No one’s influenced by a project. I’m not sure at just one possible solution. I heard the first person speaking, mentioning the conflict of interest. You pay someone to do this, they give you this, and it goes back and forth. I know you don’t want to that part of the world. Want to be honest? No, no, I’m not. But the conflict can do this.”

“I’m a resident of Parsippany for 20 years. We are all elected officials. Elected by the people of Parsippany. So, by default, you are here to make this town thrive for residents and make decisions for local businesses and to always think what steps you can take to keep taxes low. This decision almost guarantees higher taxes. Unions are the backbone of this country, and I have nothing against them. They do great work. However, keep in mind, local businesses also have vested interest in doing a good job. And to throw them away is a disservice. As elected officials. You said Morris County is fiscally managed well, while that is now, once PLA is enforced. Then in a few years it will still be managed fiscally well because of the higher taxes that the residents will have to pay. So, I urge you to rethink this, modify to give local businesses a fair advantage and your obligation to keep taxes low. I know you are not all heartless and this is a difficult job,” said Pulkit Desai.

Brandon Ray, with Associated Builders and Contractors, said “While these agreements do may seem innocuous even altruistic and motivation the true nature and purpose of these agreements, as we know, is to put a thumb on the scale in favor of a certain segment of contractors. The bidding process and unfairly discourage merits shop contractors from bidding. The number people have referenced about the majority of the workforce in New Jersey is 73% non-union. To put that in perspective, if this PLA goes into effect, you’re essentially excluding seven out of 10 workers from bidding on this project. And the claim that this does not exclude anyone from bidding on these projects, while they may be true on a technical front, is not true in practice.  While the requirements can vary, they all almost include provisions that discourage merit shop contractors not affiliated with the union from competing to when taxpayer funded work that they pay taxes for. The contractors that do bid are unable to win a contract without agreeing to the terms within the PLA. And they’re generally excluded from drafting and negotiating those terms. Typically, it requires companies to agree or recognize the union as the representative of their employees use the union hiring hall to obtain their workers, displacing their own and pay the union benefit plans and notably underfunded pension plans that they’ll not be able to access.”

David O. Austin, an attorney with the law firm of LER Mendelson

David Austin, an attorney with the law firm of LER Mendelson, said “The ordinance is inconsistent with state law. It mandates the use of a PLA on every project over 5 million, which is in direct conflict with NJSA52:38-3, the law that enables the ordinance. And that that law unequivocally states that the PLAs may be considered by public bodies on a project-by-project basis. And in 2020, when Governor Murphy conditionally vetoed Senate Bill 1370, he understood also along with the legislature the reason for making sure that PLAs should be on a project-by-project basis. Whether PLA is even needed. With all due respect, ABC submits that before the body invites a potential legal challenge on the theory that the ordinance conflicts with and is preempted by state law. The people deserve to understand from the sponsors of the ordinance specifically and supported by facts why and how the ordinance advances, advances the town township’s interests as opposed to the unions who will greatly benefit from its passage. In addition, ABC urges for and open discussion with its taxpayers about the increased costs that have been documented on PLA projects. Not a single person this evening has refuted the study by our own New Jersey Department of Labor. No study exists. That is the most recent study, and a few other individuals spoke about it earlier. Discussed that the New Jersey Department of Labor found that PLAs ended up costing 30.5% more than non-PLA prevailing wage projects. And the study also concluded that PLA projects took longer to complete by approximately 22 weeks.”

The hallway was packed with Union members who support the PLA

Mayor James Barberio responded, “I just wanted to make several comments with regards to David O. Austin, the attorney that came up. One thing I do not take lightly is threats. And if the ABC is going to sue the township and make those comments, I don’t take them lightly. I have an OPRA (Open Public Records Act) request that was given to me with regards to the President and CEO of ABC. And it says, any communications from 2019, which I wasn’t a mayor then, from Mayor Barberio, with dimension of project, labor agreement project, labor grant, PLAs, PLAs associated builders and contractors. Why would that be sent in when I never had a conversation with the President of the ABC? That kind of frustrated me because I know why it was sent. We’re talking about the free market. We were talking about that tonight. And the ABC argues further that the proposed PLA ordinance runs contrary to the value of free enterprise, fair competition and fiscal conservatism. I guess they’re calling me out that I’m not a conservative, but I think there’s many union members here that are conservative and everything about

The crowd applauds loudly when Councilman Paul Carifi, Jr., supports the PLA

PLAs is adverse from the free market mindset. Well, in building and construction trades council verse associated builders and contractors, however, the US Supreme Court recognized that when a local or a state government act in the role of a purchaser of construction services acts, just acts just like a private contractor would act and conditions at purchasing upon the very sort of labor agreement that Congress explicitly authorize and expect frequently to find. It does not regulate the workings of market forces for that Congress expected to find it exemplifies them. In other words, PLAs are permissible under the National Labor Relations Act because the state or local government acts as a market participant utilizing bid specifications just as any other private contractors would do. Union and non-union contractors are free to bid on the projects covered by PLAs or as participants on the free market choose to bid on projects not covered by PLAs instead. Now I spoke with regards to the amount of projects that have come by Parsippany. 7,500. 7,500 bids and only five were over 5 million dollars. So that’s a significant difference, which means that these is free share around, that’s free enterprise. There’s plenty of work to go around cause most projects are under the 5 million dollars.”

The PLA ordinance is expected to pass 4-1 with Councilman Justin Musella being the sole vote against it.

Frank L. Cahill
Frank L. Cahill
Publisher of Parsippany Focus since 1989 and Morris Focus since 2019, both covering a wide range of events. Mr. Cahill serves as the Executive Board Member of the Parsippany Area Chamber of Commerce, President of Kiwanis Club of Tri-Town and Chairman of Parsippany-Troy Hills Economic Development Advisory Board.
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