A rendering of what the planned Lawrenceburg Event Center may look like.
(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) – There is more controversy surrounding the planned $49 million downtown Lawrenceburg event center.
Last week, the Lawrenceburg Conservancy District had concerns over the development’s impact on the Ohio River levee before agreeing to sponsor an application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers required to move the project forward.
Now, construction industry voice Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. is taking issue with the project labor agreement approved by the Lawrenceburg Redevelopment Commission last year calling it “unethical.”
On Friday, the Ohio Valley Chapter of ABC issued a statement about the PLA, arguing it will raise the cost of the event center by 20 percent. The PLA dictates that only union contractors can work on the project.
ABC claims former Lawrenceburg Mayor Bill Cunningham received $20,000 for his 2004 election, all from unions. The contributions were cited in a November 2005 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Journal article.
“This agreement was his way to pay them back. If Bill Cunningham worked for this union, he should not be permitted to guarantee them the work. That is a pure conflict of interest. The PLA must be revoked,” said John Morris, president of the Ohio Valley Chapter of ABC.
Cunningham said the contributions to his elections, including the $20,000 from unions in his first mayoral election in 2004, have always been public record, as is required by law.
He accused the ABC of being misleading in that he was responsible for the labor agreement. It was approved by the then-redevelopment commission with Cunningham not having to vote. He did sign the agreement as the mayor is required to do for most such agreements and ordinances.
“I could have vetoed but it still would have passed,” Cunningham told Eagle 99.3 Monday. “It was my duty as mayor to sign it.”
Was it a payback to labor unions?
“I don’t know. Lawrenceburg has always been labor oriented going back to the distillery and the city and even now with the casino,” he said.
The former mayor said the ABC needs to know contributions to his campaign came from union membership voluntarily.
Associated Builders and Contractors also believes the PLA violates Indiana’s new right to work law – enacted upon its passage by state lawmakers earlier this year – by requiring all employees on the project to pay union dues.
“The employees can sign off and not pay dues,” Cunningham said, adding that the requirement would have been effective if right to work had not become state law. He suggested that if the agreement needs fixed, current city leaders may be able to revisit the PLA and remove the language.
ABC has requested an investigation by the Lawrenceburg Redevelopment Commission into the PLA.
“Project Labor Agreements exist for only one reason – to eliminate bidding competition from qualified contractors whose employees choose not to belong to a labor organization. If the PLA is removes, the taxpayers will save money,” said J.R. Gaylor, president of ABC Indiana.
ABC brought its concerns to the commission Thursday. City councilman and redevelopment commission chairman Mike Lawrence has asked city and redevelopment commission attorney Joe Votaw to investigate the matter.
“I just want to get to the bottom of this and make sure it’s done correctly,” Lawrence said.
Construction bids for the event center are due by July 11, but that date could be extended if the PLA is opened to non-union contractors.
Cunningham objected to another ABC’s claim that the union-only provisions in the PLA would raise the cost by 20 percent. It’s a prevailing wage job, he said.
The former mayor suspected that the ABC’s sudden issue with the event center PLA is another sign that some people are against the project.
“I hope the project moves forward. It’s a positive thing for downtown,” he said.