Project Labor Agreement causes dissent among officials


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Plans for the Johnson County secondary-roads replacement facility are nearing an end, but there is still discussion to be had on the subject. The planned facility will replace the secondary-roads building that was damaged in a fire earlier this year.

A project labor agreement between Johnson County, the Cedar Rapids Iowa City Building Trades Council, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers was put before the Johnson County Board of Supervisors at their meeting on Thursday. This agreement will affect the selection process and payment of workers.

This agreement closely follows the wording of a similar agreement used in Polk County in 2002. The Polk County agreement was taken to court and upheld, leading to many Iowa counties using a similar wording to avoid lawsuits.

When the approval for this agreement came to a vote, it passed 4-1, with Supervisor John Etheredge opposing the measure. There will be a public hearing on the secondary-roads building on Dec. 5.

Etheredge said this agreement is too preferential to certain workers. Johnson County should develop its own labor agreement for the project, he said, rather than using the previous format.

“I like a lot of what’s in here; I just don’t like the process,” he said. “I’d like to see what the county can do with its own standards.”

Despite Etheredge’s criticisms of the agreement, Supervisor Chairwoman Janelle Rettig said the county should use the currently drafted labor agreement because it keeps money, and labor, local.

“I just don’t want people coming from Chicago and St. Louis and taking our tax dollars,” Rettig said. “This is the one way we have of protecting the county’s investment.”

Supervisor Rod Sullivan said some of Etheredge’s concerns may be unfounded due to the nature of the agreement.

“There are requirements for people doing the work,” he said. “The whole package was negotiated between contractors and those unions.”

Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said they should give the current agreement wording a chance before working out something new.

“This would be a good test project to see if this actually works,” Neuzil said. “If we can find quality individuals … let’s see what happens.”

One issue with creating a new labor agreement for Johnson County may lie in the legal department. The county could get sued if the new agreement was unfair, leading to fees and time taken from the county. Rettig said this is another reason not to pursue a new agreement.

“I’m not interested in having the County Attorney’s Office reinvent the wheel and go to court for five years,” she said.  “I don’t know how you could rewrite it and be any better.”

Supervisor Pat Harney said it would be possible for the county to create a new agreement, but the possibility of going to court would delay the secondary roads project.

“We could do something different,” he said. “The question is, do you want to risk a delay of the project if we go to court?”

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