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Honolulu Council Approves Labor-Related Agreement Measure

Engy Naguib

Honolulu councilmembers passed a measure Wednesday that opponents say favors labor unions and that supporters argue will gurantee jobs for local workers.

The Honolulu City Council voted 7-2 in favor of Bill 37, which would require a Project Labor Agreement between the city and a contractor for selected large-scale projects.

Before the vote, the council proposed several amendments to the measure – clarifying what types of projects will be affected. These include infrastructure, erosion, and rockfall mitigation projects costing more than $2 million. According to Councilmember Joey Manahan, these account for less than 20% of all city projects.

The measure would require affected contractors to have workers who are 80% local, and part of a union or pay union dues. 

Opponents of the measure say these requirements would hurt general contractors and local businesses – as well as impact employee benefits.

How the measure might affect the cost of city projects is unclear. Those who oppose it suggest the bill would lower competition.

"Why would the City Council want to kick out one-third of the competitive bidders, and raise the cost of construction projects in Honolulu?" asked Shane Peterson of Jas. W. Glover Ltd. "Our employees have diverse skills, how many unions would we have to join just to be able to keep up with the work that we have to do?

"With union seniority rules, they would probably end up paying dues and sit on the bench. This is senseless and unfair. How is this a benefit to me, my company or my workers?"

Supporters of the measure argued Bill 37 would ensure projects are completed on time, on budget and in a safe manner.

"When it comes to all of this, this is a framework," said Tyler Dos Santos Tam, consultant with the Bricklayer's Union and Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters. "Many of these issues are going to have to be worked out – negotiated by the mayor. But, at the end of the day, what's in here is a framework that's going to help to promote value for the city's taxpayers."

Councilmembers Heidi Tsuneyoshi and Brandon Elefante voted against the measure – expressing legal concerns with the bill, and that it should be further refined.

The amended Bill 37 now goes to Mayor Kirk Caldwell for review.

Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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