Cunningham pressures D.C. on stadium

Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) is putting pressure on Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams to allow nonunion contractors to compete to build the capital’s new baseball stadium.

Cunningham, vice chairman of the D.C. appropriations subcommittee, wrote a letter to Williams on Oct. 18 calling on him not to adopt a union-only project labor agreement (PLA).

“The best way to ensure local hiring and more jobs for D.C. residents is to build the new stadium with a guarantee of open competition between responsible union and non-union bidders,” the letter states.

PLAs are pre-hire collective-bargaining agreements and have been in use for at least 60 years. They establish the basic labor terms — wages, health benefits, worker’s compensation, etc. — on a project.

Jerry Lozupone, executive secretary treasurer of the Washington Building and Construction Trades Union, an AFL-CIO member, responded to news of Cunningham’s letter by saying there is no such thing as a union-only PLA. Both the MCI Center and the new Washington Convention Center were built by union and nonunion workers, he said by way of example.

“You have to distinguish between desire and resources,” Lozupone said. “These projects needed more manpower, so unions had to get involved.”

The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) said that a PLA’s requirements can be so onerous that it is highly unlikely that any nonunion labor would comply.

“Most times the terms of these PLAs impose union-type working conditions on our open-shop employees, thus forcing them to doubly contribute to pension funds or additional healthcare plans,” the AGC spokeswoman said.

So far, Cunningham is the only member of Congress to get involved in issues surrounding the new stadium.

Cunningham’s office and officials on both the House Appropriations and Government Reform committees said the congressman acted on his own in writing to the mayor.

It is planned that the stadium be paid for without federal funds.

“There aren’t going to be any federal funds whatsoever appropriated to the stadium, so it’s not even on the table right now,” said House Appropriations Committee spokesman John Scofield. “What Cunningham is doing has no relation to the committee.”

Each year, Congress gives roughly $500 million to the District of Columbia. This goes mainly toward the reimbursement of court and judicial-related expenses, Scofield said.

Cunningham’s press secretary, Harmony Allen, said that the congressman contacted the mayor because Cunningham has always been opposed to PLAs but that Williams had not yet responded to the letter.

“The congressman is excited that baseball is coming here,” Allen said, “but he has a record of being against PLAs, and that is where this letter stemmed from.”

It is unclear if ABC’s metro-Washington chapter asked Cunningham to write the letter on its behalf, but ABC did say it has asked the entire D.C. appropriations subcommittee to write a similar letter. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), who chairs the subcommittee, has not responded to ABC’s request.

“We just haven’t been able to raise the awareness of Frelinghuysen and his staff,” said Bob Zinsmeister, director of government and public affairs for ABC’s metro-Washington chapter.

“At this point, we know it’s more of a philosophical issue,” Zinsmeister said. “But in the long run [the stadium] is going to cost the city a lot of money, so we think Congress should look at it.”

Frelinghuysen’s office referred questions to the House Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.). A committee spokesman reiterated that stadium construction is a local matter.

“From what we know at this point, [the stadium] will not require any congressional involvement, and we have not been lobbied on it at all,” the spokesman said.

The Washington Nationals baseball team will play at RFK Stadium for the first three
years, until the new stadium is complete. The D.C. City Council will handle legislation to finance the stadium.

Scott Brown, communications director of ABC’s national office, said the association expects that federal money would be involved in the form of tax-exempt bonds to finance the stadium.

Thus, if the D.C. administration excludes nonunion labor, ABC would argue that it breaches Executive Order 13202.

The executive order, signed by President Bush in April 2001, is designed to preserve open competition in government contracts by prohibiting union-only PLAs for all federal and federally funded projects.

Robert Bobb, the city administrator, is leading the stadium contract negotiations and will decide the terms of the PLA.