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Finizio chooses unions over budget savings

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published 09/18/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 09/17/2013 11:42 PM

Quick. What does Albuquerque have in common with New London?

That's right. Not the climate. It was above 80 degrees at noon Tuesday there, while there was a fall chill in the air here, closer to 60 degrees.

This hot summer, one thing the two cities had in common was a discussion about whether union construction firms should have a leg up in bidding on big expensive municipal contracts.

The Democratic-controlled City Council in New London blew a big kiss to the unions this summer and passed an ordinance giving union firms an advantage in competitive bidding.

Mayor Finizio took a big union swoon, too, refusing to veto the ordinance, saying it will make for better buildings, even though they will likely cost the city more money.

In Albuquerque, the issue of union-friendly rules for city construction projects has divided candidates for a pending mayoral race, with one candidate endorsing them, another campaigning against them and a third flip-flopping.

This is a debate that has been occurring all around the country, obviously the result of a national strategy by the unions to use political muscle to get a better grip on government contracts.

New London adopted a similar union-friendly rule in 2008. But after a political shift on the council, the Green Party and Republicans managed to rescind it in 2010, saying it excluded 80 percent of potential bidders, many of them small businesses.

One round of schools construction bidding at the time indicated a $900,000 savings, had the city been able to accept the lower, nonunion bid.

In bringing back labor-friendly requirements for city construction bids, the New London City Council was doing the union's heavy lifting, subverting the whole principle of competitive, low-bid-wins awarding of contracts.

The City Council did the lifting, but Mayor Finizio weighed in with the attempt at explaining, writing an op-ed piece for The Day, "Why Union Labor is Better," saying why he didn't veto the union-bussing ordinance.

Curiously, the mayor doesn't deny that the new ordinance is going to cost the city money.

In other words, it does indeed undermine the whole intent of competitive bidding to get the best price, a time-honored means to be sure governments are not cheated.

More strangely, the mayor made the argument, without any kind of statistics or documentation, that more expensive union-built buildings are better.

"While a bid awarded may, in today's dollars, be less than a union construction bid, the buildings built are not of the same quality," Finizio wrote.

I'm not sure what he could possibly base that reasoning on.

The city has its own building department and inspectors to be sure every single building in the city, whether built privately or by city contract, by union or nonunion workers, meets appropriate building codes and standards.

Where are the statistics that show union firms build better buildings?

It is also not clear how much of higher costs of using unionized companies goes to the construction workers and how much goes to the company owners. I suspect more to the latter.

Clearly the mayor is pandering to what he considers to be a powerful political constituency. That may be useful in statewide politics, where union endorsements can carry a lot of weight.

I am not sure, though, that making rules that drive up the cost of new municipal buildings, favoring a union constituency over others, in a city with rising tax rates, is such good politics.

We will find out this fall when Republicans, who rescinded the last union-friendly rules that subverted competitive bidding, will be on the ballot again.

This is the opinion of David Collins

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