By Strikeslip

“Project Labor Agreement (PLA),” the term was unknown to me until Cassandra Harris-Lockwood called to relate that the term had been used by some Union members demonstrating in favor of the Downtown Hospital Project at the Planning Board’s Scoping Hearing a couple weeks ago. Immediately following that call, I heard the term used again during an interview with Tommy Carcone, President of the Utica Fire Union on WUTQ (available on the WUTQ website).

“WikiPedia” defines a PLA as“a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement with one or more labor organizations that establishes the terms and conditions of employment for a specific construction project. Before any workers are hired on the project, construction unions have bargaining rights to determine the wage rates and benefits of all employees working on the particular project and to agree to the provisions of the agreement. The terms of the agreement apply to all contractors and subcontractors who successfully bid on the project, and supersedes any existing collective bargaining agreements . . . “

PLAs can be good things, ensuring that workers on taxpayer-funded projects have protections against being taken advantage of (pay, working conditions, hours, safety, etc.). However, the website “The Truth About Project Labor Agreements” calls them “special interest schemes that end open, fair and competitive bidding on taxpayer-funded construction projects.” So, like anything well intended, abuses from PLAs can occur.
How does PLA relate to the Downtown Hospital proposal? It can be presumed that since taxpayer dollars are involved and since New York State favors the use of PLAs (24 states apparently take the opposite view), there will be a PLA no matter where the hospital is built. So why was the term used by demonstrators? Is there a PLA in existence for the proposal? If so, who signed it and when, and what are its terms? Is there a PLA that requires the hospital to be built Downtown — or one that is conditioned upon the hospital being built Downtown? Or is it expected that the eventual PLA for hospital located in Downtown would contain terms more favorable to the Union demonstrators than a PLA for one on the current campus in New Hartford?

A Phoenix inquiry to a local union official produced a denial of the existence of a PLA and no other information. So, at this point, it is unclear why the Union demonstrators have chosen a side in the hospital location debate.

Mr. Carcone’s interview is another troubling story. Beginning at around the 13:00 minute mark he mentioned that the Utica Fire Department was seeking authorization from the Mayor to provide non-emergency transfers, that he hoped this would be authorized before the new hospital is built Downtown, and that if so, “we could go and we could make arrangement with the Downtown hospital and say hey listen make a lease payment on an ambulance $26,000 a year, we’ll man it all the revenue in and out of the hospital will come into the city General Fund.” When it was pointed out to Mr. Carcone that private people now provided that service, Mr. Carcone responded that “we have the Certificate of Need to serve the City of Utica” and indicated that they wanted to be the “primary” agency “to compensate the citizens of the City of Utica … as a revenue source,” and then referred to the tax base that would be lost. Mr. Carcone then referenced Utica Collage removal of properties from the tax base for various facilities and argued that the College “should” pay the City for public safety services, but if the College did not want to do this, the College could charge its students a $50 Public Safety Fee. Mr. Carcone then mentioned PLAs to ensure that local labor is used on the hospital construction project, and then referred to nurses and local labor unions but said it is premature for PLAs because they are not building yet.

Is it not arrogant for a city union official to insist that his shop has to be the “primary agency” for transfers above private companies already providing the service?!… to suggest that the (regional) hospital lease an ambulance so that his department could man it?!… to suggest that Utica College charge its students a $50 “Public Safety Fee?” Is it not disingenuous to claim an objective to “compensate the citizens” of Utica?

One gets Deja Vu listening to this discussion because “generation of revenue for the citizens of Utica” was a justification used to establish the ambulance service within the Utica Fire Department to begin with. The new twist now is that it will somehow be used to replace taxes lost due to the taking of properties by tax-exempt entities (which has gone on for years without complaint by Utica officials). Instead, how about asking the city to not approve the hospital’s proposal for Utica?

The public still does not know what Utica’s ambulance service really costs because it is co-mingled with the Fire Department’s operation. If it does bring in more revenue to the City than it costs (the impression officials give but never prove) then customers (whether they be individuals or insurance companies) are paying more than market rate when they call a Utica ambulance. Early on, one private ambulance company claimed that the City of Utica often charged insurance companies double what the private company charged. This makes sense because public employees are often paid better and receive more benefits than their private counterparts. Ultimately, people’s healthcare dollars will not all be going into their healthcare, but, rather they will pay a premium into both the City of Utica – – – and indirectly to its Unions.

Why did Mr. Carcone mention nurses when he discussed PLAs? My understanding is that hospital workers already have their bargaining representatives. Are Utica’s municipal workers’ unions thinking of becoming involved with the hospital?

It now should be obvious that putting our regional hospital in Utica is going to subject its operations to Utica special-interest politics.

This is probably the best reason for KEEPING THE NEW HOSPITAL OUT OF UTICA. Who thinks that forcing the Hospital to deal with Utica politics will benefit their healthcare?.

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