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Non-union group halts Quincy residency, apprenticeship requirements on city projects

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  April 19, 2012 04:34 PM

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A non-union group has halted, at least temporarily, the city of Quincy from using several bidding requirements that the group says are unfair and unconstitutional.

In a decision issued Thursday by US District Court Judge Rya Zobel, several of the requirement for bidding on city projects, which include residency, apprenticeship, health and welfare, and pension provisions, were put on hold until the court rules on the lawsuit filed against the city in March.

The lawsuit, filed by Merit Construction Alliance; Grasseschi Plumbing & Heating Inc; D’Agostino Associates Inc; and David Ross, claims that the requirements of the “responsible employer ordinance” are unconstitutional, as they pander to union groups.

The decision to temporarily halt the provisions falls in line with a decision issued by the same judge in a Fall River lawsuit last October, where similar requirements were declared unconstitutional and struck down.

Zobel declared that the Quincy case mirrored that of Fall River in both its apprenticeship and residency requirements, and so suspended them until a court hearing.

The construction groups have objected to Quincy’s Responsible Employer Ordinance since December. The group asked the city to take down the requirements on their own. When the city refused, a lawsuit was filed.

The filing delayed the release of a bid for the Central Middle School project for a month pending instruction by the court. Quincy will now rebid the project and no longer enforce the disputed requirements.

"The good news is we can move forward with the project now that we know what the framework is, but we will continue to pursue the legal issues in court on apprenticeship and residency," City Solicitor Jim Timmins said.

Going forward, the city has also decided to end the health and welfare requirements and the pension provisions.

"The city suspended those provisions and accepts that they can no longer continue to require compliance," Timmins said.

As such, the city plans to take the pension and health and welfare provisions off of their books.

However, city officials maintain that apprenticeship and residency requirements are necessary. Until a final ruling is issued, none of those requirements will be enforced.

"We think the apprentice program that there are legal issues that we want to try to expand upon and have a judge evaluate," Timmins said. "Although they may be similarities with the Fall River statute, we think there are some legal issues that have to be fully analyzed, and we’re going to go forward with that process and this case."

He added that the residency issue is very fact-specific, and the city will try to develop the factual background for why that requirement should be viable in Quincy.

Within the ruling, Mayor Thomas Koch said the residency requirement was put in place because he was “hearing from the citizenry on an almost daily basis that the blue collar sector of the city needs work,” and that it is “axiomatic that every municipality would wish to see its citizens employed, and would do whatever it could to insure that to happen.”

While acknowledging the sentiment, the judge countered that non-residents contributed to the city in large ways, and that Quincy residents are gainfully employed well outside of the confines of the city.

Representatives from Merit welcomed the ruling.

“There is nothing responsible about Quincy’s city ordinances when they violate the constitutional rights of working men and women and block them from working on construction projects they are paying for with their tax dollars. It’s indefensible that the mayor is wasting taxpayers’ money because he is intent on trampling the constitution - all in the name of helping his cronies in organized labor,” said Ronald N. Cogliano, president of the Merit Construction Alliance.

Cogliano said such ordinances "achieve none of the stated objectives, but do achieve the agenda of organized labor, which is to make it harder for merit shop contractors to compete and help unions regain lost market share by providing them with unfair advantages.”

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