Project labor agreement bill clears Assembly panel

TRENTON – Democratic lawmakers again cleared legislation through committee Thursday that would expand the scope of project labor agreements to include more public works projects.

Senate President Steve Sweeney’s legislation, S2425/A3679, hailed by him and supporters as a “put New Jerseyans back to work” bill, was released from the Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee. The panel released the bill along party lines and after a somewhat lengthy debate.

The bill would amend the state statute dealing with authorizing project labor agreements to allow additional labor agreements with the state. It expands the definition of “public works project,” which pertains now to “construction, reconstruction, demolition or renovation” projects.

The proposal effectively allows the option for municipalities to enter into such labor agreements for a number of projects, including construction on highways, bridges, pumping stations, water treatment plants and other public facilities.

“All we’re saying here is we think we should give governments an option,” said Sweeney, arguing the bill only makes PLAs an option – it doesn’t mandate municipalities utilize them, he said.

“No one is forcing anyone to do it,” he said. “This just expands it to things that were banned under [a] federal ban.”

Sweeney argued private-sector employers often opt to use PLAs because the agreements make sense, adding Republican areas such as Monmouth County also support PLAs for certain projects.

“This isn’t just Democrat,” Sweeney said. “It’s not Democrat or Republican because where people see this is efficient and it has value, they utilize it.”

Opponents – which included at least one organized labor group – argued the proposal would ultimately increase costs for projects which would then be passed on to taxpayers.

Republican lawmakers called it “bad for taxpayers,” said Assemblyman Jay Webber, (R-26), who said the bill benefits “a very small special interest.”

It cleared a Senate panel earlier this month along party lines.

Project labor agreement bill clears Assembly panel