Taxpayers Strike Back: Calls for Repeal of Project Labor Agreements

Parsippany-Troy Hills Township Council meeting of November 1, 2022

PARSIPPANY  — About two dozen Parsippany residents attended the council meeting on Tuesday, November 1 to ask the Mayor and Council to repeal the PLA (Project Labor Agreement) which was voted on by a majority of the Council on October 18. (Click here to read a related article).

During the meeting, multiple speakers saying they represented the town’s Indian-American community stated they were intimidated by the large presence of union members at the previous two meetings and were hesitant to speak out then. Some residents also expressed they couldn’t get into the meeting held on October 11. (Click here to read a residents letter to the editor)

A vehicle owned by the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters was parked at Parsippany Hills High School with a rotating display of messages on October 18 where the Parsippany-Troy Hills Council meeting was being held.  The message seen here was directed at Councilman Justin Musella

Parsippany resident Debbie Nemorovich said “I have been a lifelong Republican and a volunteer for various causes. During the mayor’s previous election, I asked all of my friends in town to vote for him against the previous mayor. I am horrified to see that a Republican mayor openly supported liberal policies like project labor agreements; that will now drive up my taxes to pay for the favors of special interest groups. I was offended that at the previous council meeting, the mayor referred to those who wrote online about this ordinance as “Keyboard warriors”. Well, I can say that I attempted to come to the previous meeting to speak my mind, but felt a little scared, very scared of the union protestors that were there. No good reason I walk with a cane, so I’m not gonna get involved in any of that. Mayor Barberio, if you wanna keep the faith of Republicans like me, which we shook hands a couple of weeks ago, I’m hoping you and the council consider overturning this ordinance at this time.”

Click here to view the video of the November 1, 2022, Council meeting.

“My name is Raymond Gallop. I live in Lake Hiawatha. I’m here about the PLA, the Project Labor Agreement. The only person that was against it was Justin Musella. And I commend him for that. In 1985, I worked at a communications company in Piscataway and they had a labor union there. I was a white-collar worker there in Accounts Receivable. It lasted six months. It was the Teamsters Union. I’m against unions basically. And I’m also a lifelong Republican. And I’ve been living here in town since 1982. I hope you repeal this terrible agreement because Democrats only benefit from it. It’s costly. Being in bed with labor unions is not a good thing. Only Democrats do that. Joe Biden and the Democrats are in this.”

On October 18, Union workers met at International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 102, 50 Parsippany Road, and drove in caravans to Parsippany Hills High School. Pictured is a truck with the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters logo. A large video sign on the side of the truck displayed the image “PLA ALL THE Way.”

“I’m here to voice my opposition to the project labor agreement ordinance. I fail to see how this ordinance will save Parsippany taxpayers’ a dime. The ordinance will not provide a fair and competitive bidding process. If a project is put out the bid with an estimated value of $5 million, how can it become a competitive bid if the contractors that have an agreement with the union know that this is a starting point? Who will be responsible for the taxpayers’ dollars when the union assigns the low bidder? You say this ordinance will prevent lowballing. How will it prevent gouging? It is said that by employing union labor, the workers will be more skilled. I know this is not true. I am a local contractor. I do bid public work and have my men attending the same classes as the union workers. It is this town’s responsibility to ensure the contractors are registered with the state’s apprenticeship program. My men go through the same four years of schooling and on-the-job training. They’re equally capable. They receive the same pay scale as unionized workers. In fact, they see more money in their checks because there are no deductions for dues or other obligations. You say the ordinance will prevent delays from labor conflicts. By approving this haven’t you just let the wolves overrun the hen house? If labor conflicts are an issue, why not introduce an ordinance to allow the union workers space to voice their disagreement? And the non-union workers to continue working. The town has an obligation to taxpayers to be good stewards of their money,”  said Ken Dua.

“PLAs have been around for a while. They’re nothing new. They came into play in the “Big dig” in Boston in 2001, which was a debacle. Cost overruns for days. In fact, George W. Bush prohibited all project labor agreements from all federal projects.  Bids should go to the lowest responsible bidder union or non-union. I was really shocked when I found out that a Republican administration in this town introduced and passed this legislation. Republicans generally run on fiscal responsibility and the responsibility of the taxpayers. This is a complete violation of that. Back around 2001, the courts threw out some PLA agreements for two high school building projects in Lynn and one in Boston’s High Park. When the new bids came in, they were $500,000 and $664,000 lower respectively for these projects. It’s a big saving. There have been cost overruns with these agreements. There was an arena in Cleveland, which was originally estimated at $118 million and came in 25% overestimate. The Ohio legislature subsequently voted to prohibit union-only deals on state projects. It really limits who is going to bid on these projects. Nationwide 87.4% of the construction industry does not belong to a union; in New Jersey, it’s not quite that high, but still, 73.10% of the construction industry in New Jersey is non-union. That means you’re eliminating approximately three-quarters of the potential contractors, and you’re leaving it to about a quarter of the potential contractors to bid on these projects. The ordinance doesn’t prohibit a non-union contractor to bid on the contract, but then he has to hire the union labor. Does he really want to put his reputation on the line with people he doesn’t know? Have to use union employees that he’s never met before or dealt with before? You have an opportunity to repeal this ordinance and restore fiscal responsibility and give everybody an equal opportunity to bid on these contracts,” said Parsippany resident Ken Kaplan.

Another resident, Elaine Gavalas, said “I was at the last meeting about the PLA agreement at the high school, and it was quite an experience. The hundreds of union people were very intimidating and made you feel like you couldn’t disagree with them. In my area of Lake Parsippany, I know of a group of people from the Indian community who attended the first meeting. They were so fearful that they felt like they were going to be beaten up. Unfortunately, most of them will not be attending any more town hall meetings. This is not right. They really felt very fearful. All they wanted to do was express their opinions. Doing my own research, I believe the cons outweigh the pros. Increased costs will raise our taxes. PLAs are anti-competitive and inherently unfair to non-union contractors and non-union employees. No one can guarantee 100% that their work is going to be perfect. I think this ordinance should be repealed. And I support Justin’s vote of no.”

Parsippany resident Hank Heller. File Photo

“Most of you know me and I know most of you I’d like to address myself, to the mayor who spoke strongly for PLAs as well as for the rest of you who supported it as strongly as you did. And I owe it to myself and to each of you to share some information. Three voting seasons ago, I voted for most of you and I was very happy with that. And then two voting seasons ago, I didn’t vote for most of you. I voted for the other guys. And that was something that troubled me a great deal because I have, I have been a conservative person, for most of my life. And then in the last voting season, I voted for you, most of you again. Okay? And I’m saying this to you because I think it’s really important that you understand what’s, what’s really happening. Okay? When I didn’t vote for you, I was, I didn’t vote for you because I was dissatisfied with the way you were spending our money, our taxpayer money. Okay? But I ultimately became more dissatisfied with the folks who replaced some of you. Okay? And now we’re back again. I have confidence in you people. I really like most of you people, and I am telling you that I think that the vote, the vote to make PLAs Law in Parsippany is a terrible mistake. The reason that I feel this is because when the county and the state suggested they brought forth that PLAs would be a good thing to consider. That was one thing, but it did not have to be, it did not have to be adhered to; It could be considered. When you folks decided under a great deal of pressure from the union representatives that this would become the law of Parsippany. I think you made a terrible mistake. And I that you disappointed yourself and will pay for that. And I don’t want you to pay for that. Additionally, the fact of the matter is that it’s also disrespectful to the intelligence of the voters that support you. And, and that’s all I have to say. Honor, I’d like you to rethink that entire issue,” said Parsippany resident Hank Heller.

“As I sit back there and I watch carefully how attentively you listen to the speakers up here. I thank you very much for that because I know that at least are dear. We may disagree on issues, but I appreciate the respectfulness and attentiveness to which you give all the speakers. I think that’s very important. I was at the town council meeting on October 18. I was in the minority in speaking against the ordinance requiring PLAs for projects over $5 million. Listening to the majority on October 18 one might believe that hiring union workers precludes cost overruns, ensures time and completion of projects, and guarantees quality workmanship. My experience proves different. As a former union member, I was in Local 333 and M.E.B.A.-2 and am a current employee in the public sector. My experience is course overruns and delays are so common in the public sector, they’re expected. Furthermore, if a newly completed project fails, it’s really the architect that should be held accountable, not the workers. And believe me, I support the rights of all workers to earn a fair and living wage more over their entitled to fair labor practices and safe working conditions. And frankly, I admire their skills. However, PLAs are not right for Parsippany. I appeal to the town council, and to the mayor to protect the fiduciary interests of the town and its residents. Keep this town fiscally solvent and repeal ordinance 2022:24,” said Parsippany resident Richard Corbett.

“My name is, Jeff Golderer. At the last council meeting, the mayor referred to my wife and me as keyboard warriors for writing a letter to the editor rather than speaking in person. Well, we stand by what we expressed in writing, and we are not afraid of speaking up for our principles and our beliefs. I am also representing my wife to say exactly what we wrote to the council, Republican committee members, and in the letter to the editor. We do not agree with the PLA ordinance that was passed by the majority of this council. We thought that by having an all-Republican council and mayor, we would have an administration that would support Republican values and principles. And this has not happened in this particular case. Republicans generally advocate for traditional values, a low degree of government interference, and large support of the private sector. And the party’s fiscal conservatism includes support for lower taxes, free-market capitalism, and deregulation. As important as it is to vote for Republicans, as we are asked to do, we must make sure that they are the right Republicans. What is the point of voting someone into a position just because they’re Republicans if they’re going to present legislation and ordinances? Similar to the Democrat representatives. Earlier this year, President Joe Biden directed federal government agencies to use PLAs on projects on federal projects. So what does that tell you about where the policy stands on the political spectrum? Parsippany is important to each one of us, and we must make sure that stays out of the swamps that Democrats like to swim in. Let’s be clear, our mayor and council are people we have known for a very long time. Residents have known them for a lifetime. So we must help them stay on the right side of the party and the issues. We are not against unions, we are against the government restricting the rights of free-loving Americans that believe in a free market. Please don’t continue to go in this direction by restricting these freedoms as mentioned, um, by a previous speaker, um, over 75% of construction workers are non-union. So this truly is a carve-out for this special union interest. We are not judging your personal integrity and values that are between you and your own conscience, but we are speaking out for our values and integrity as part of any taxpayers and members of the Republican party for the representatives that we voted for. This keyboard warrior will always stand up to try to keep Parsippany to be the best place to live, for its suburban lifestyle and conservative leadership that has helped our community prosper.  What was the purpose of the PLA ordinance? What problem is it meant to solve? By what metric will we measure any success or impact? And now that the PLA ordinance has passed, how long will it be before the council is pressured to lower the dollar minimum, Please keep the political controversies to a minimum and concentrate on fixing what the previous administrator has broken. Continue to bring more businesses to our town that our families can enjoy and keep our conservative values protected. Thank you for your time and attention.”

Parsippany-Troy Hills Mayor James Barberio

Mayor James Barberio responded “I do want to answer one question. Mr. Golderer came up and with the keyboard warrior’s statement they made, I’ll make it again. And the reason why I’m making it again is that what I meant by keyboard warriors, it was certain individuals whose comments were so generic that it was the same comment going forward, Forward and forward and forward. And it all came from ABC, which is the Associated Builder and Construction. They made some comments with regard to us doing a PLA. What the ABC does not tell you. There’s a supply chain issue and there’s a labor shortage, They want to hire, be able to hire, individuals with no experience. They want to hire undocumented with no experience whatsoever. I read that in a magazine. It was a February 2022 study by ABC itself. This ordinance puts residents to work.”

“The previous speaker said ‘I don’t know why he made this change. We had a level playing field. The small business owner had a chance to compete with everybody else. I heard at the last meeting about fair wages, fair pay, and all those things. I have never been paid a fair rate in all my life. I get paid what I got paid, what I earned, what I strived for, what I got. No law was set in place to pay me a wage. I earned it. The open bidding process allows us as taxpayers to pay a fair rate to anybody who’s bidding. In New York City a few years ago, they made an ordinance change by law where all bellmen and bellhops in hotel and, apartment buildings had to be unionized. It pushed all the non-union buildings into a very strange situation. Either they do this or they get fined. I don’t want us to be put into a position where we have to do something without any flexibility. The key in business as well as in government is flexibility. You gotta be able to move and maneuver properly. At the last meeting, one neighbor said to me, Tom, in the last year my cost has gone up $1,000 a month living in Parsippany. Gas inflation and all those things. Will this new ordinance cost me more money? Or will we be doing fewer projects? That means Parsippany now goes down. We’re in a big circle. I would like your consideration and think about your taxpayers, what the impact will be long term, and also your flexibility,” said Parsippany resident Thomas Williams.

Lake Parsippany resident Danny (Dharmesh) Desai said “I’m here with due respect to all of you guys. I’m not opposing the union. I do respect unions. But it goes case by case. This town shouls not require PLA for sure. The community is very upset. The Indian community is upset. I’m representing many of them today. Many of them were scared to come to the last meeting. That doesn’t mean they agree with your decision. They worked for you guys. They’re not going to work in the future because of the action you guys have taken. I am also a town county committee member. You all know me as a Republican. I am a business owner. I used union workers and non-union union workers for my construction jobs. They definitely are higher in price. There is no doubt about it. I personally experience this myself. So is no way there is a comparison. Competition has been limited, which is not a good idea. Guess what? How are we gonna pay for the cost increase? It’s a domino effect when you increase the cost of any project is going to come to the residents of price like me and the rest of the folks sitting here. Now, let’s think about it.  How can we eliminate 75% of people living in Parsippany who are contractors, eliminate them from paying the taxes in this town and not give them the opportunity to do this project or bidding? That’s absolutely disgusting. Why are we in this direction? We need to rethink this. Only this gentleman has opposed this and I shall applaud you. Justin thank you. Well done. I had expressed my personal opinion to each of you personally. I did before even this started. I had given the explanation. I disagree with this and that other thing is bringing hundreds of people, union folks from out of our area. Not a good idea. Why are we bringing those here to speak? Give the fair opportunity to bring local people to speak here. They’re all scared because of hundreds of union members. That was absolutely wrong. I was here twice. I couldn’t speak because of them. That’s absolutely wrong. I do respect you guys.  We all trust it. We all work for you. We all put you into office. Please don’t disrespect the residents of Parsippany.”

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

Musella thanked the residents for speaking out.

“I understand the last two meetings, to have done what you did tonight would have been extraordinarily difficult,” he said. “You can take that from somebody who was there. And I do hope my colleagues will take into serious consideration the effort to repeal this ordinance. I do not feel it will benefit the taxpayers and I don’t want to wait for the impacts it will have on your future before it’s too late.”

“The procurement process is important to understand. You can hear about the PLAs coming over cost funds. We put a bid out at a certain price. If that bid comes over, we deny it. The township will deny the bid even on projects 5 million. if they don’t come under what we need them to be we can deny it. We can deny it again. And then the third time you can negotiate with a union or non-union. When you hear about competitive bidding with regards that it’s not fair, I can cite the United States Supreme Court which said that it is fair that all non-union or unions can bid. It was a case heard at the Supreme Court and that’s why PLA still exists because it is competitive,” Mayor Barberio continued.

“I know many union members that are Republican. I know many union members that are Democrats. I know many non-union members that are Democrats. I know many nonunion members that are Republican. When you can’t get your issue out, what do you do? You used a political stance. It’s a Democrat thing. It’s a Republican thing. I don’t look at it that way. I don’t look at it as Republican or Democrat. I’m the Mayor of Parsippany-Troy Hills. If a Democrat comes to me and has a good idea. I’m not going to shut them out. No, I’m not. that’s where this has gotten at. That it’s, it’s like you heard Mr. Golderer, who’s a par been a Republican committee member, which I will address our par republican committee meetings, um, with regards to, you know, Republicans don’t do this, Republicans don’t do that.”

“I’m for good government. I’m sure you heard that the unions contributed to my campaign. Yeah, nonunions contributed too. I guarantee them good government. That’s all. I don’t guarantee them anything else. So what you need to figure out, why do those union members come out and droves that day. I don’t know why. I asked them why. And they have a reason and asked for them to express why they came out against one individual.
That’s a question you need to ask them. Not me, not the rest of the council. They came out for a reason. I didn’t like it. I truly didn’t like how many and I didn’t like, I get the applauding, I got broad shoulders. I had the Waterview project where I was being quoted names. That’s politics. I don’t feel intimidated by anybody. I know some people are intimidated and I apologize for that. I can’t control what happens in a meeting. But to be totally honest with you, it’s not just for per residents that can come here. Any member of the public throughout the whole entire county can come to our meetings, enforce their concerns any way they want, and we have to hear them just as well. I don’t like the fact that they try to make it a Republican and Democrat thing. That becomes very frustrating. Cause it shouldn’t be that way. It could be about good government,” continued Barberio.

The audience listens to Mayor James Barberio explain his position on the PLA

Click here to download a copy of the Ordinance 2022:24.

Parsippany’s PLA ordinance was approved with a 4-to-1 vote, with Musella being the lone Councilman voting against approving the ordinance.

Click here to view a video of union workers marching into the council meeting at Parsippany Hills High School.