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Judge sides with non-union group's suit against Quincy bid rules

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  February 5, 2013 03:31 PM

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Quincy officials said they will appeal a recent court ruling that struck down an ordinance that required companies bidding on city projects to have apprentice programs.

In a decision issued Feb. 1, US District Judge Rya Zobel sided against the city, saying that its longstanding Responsible Employer Ordinance cannot be enforced.

A federal law sets the standards for pension plans and private industry, and has precedence over the city’s requirement, the ruling states, making the city’s conditions null and void.

The ruling echoes one decided by the same judge in 2011, in which construction companies objected to a similar city ordinance in Fall River.

“Quincy’s apprenticeship requirement is substantively identical to the one this court struck down 16 months ago…Now as then, ERISA [Employee Retirement Income Security Act] preempts mandatory apprenticeship program requirements,” the ruling states.

The city has been embroiled in a dispute over the ordinance with several non-union construction companies, which have said the requirements favor unionized companies.

In addition to the apprentice requirement, the ordinance also had requirements for residency, health and welfare, and pension programs.

In December 2011, the group asked the city to remove the requirements on their own. When the city refused, the group filed a lawsuit in March.

According to the court ruling, the initial lawsuit brought against the city by the contractors cited several aspects of the ordinance; however, many of those disagreements are being settled between the two parties and were not broached by the courts.

City officials said they expected the latest court ruling.

“It’s not a surprise at this stage of the process,” said mayoral spokesperson Christopher Walker. “This was roughly the same decision this judge has made in similar cases. The underlying principle …[is this] will be decided at the appeals court level, and that was the background knowledge going into this.”

City Solicitor Jim Timmins did not respond to a call for comment, but according to Walker, Mayor Thomas Koch remains committed to ensuring the city’s original ordinance can be enforced in whatever way possible.

“The underlying principal the mayor feels strongly about is the city wants to provide Quincy jobs for Quincy people, and ensure to the greatest degree possible that those jobs are going to qualified contractors, whether they are union or not,” Walker said. “And the Responsible Employer Ordinance, which has been around for some time, certainly does that.”

Although the city plans on continuing the fight in appeals court, Ron Cogliano of Merit Construction Alliance, one of the groups that pursued the lawsuit, said the ruling will help make Quincy’s bidding more fair.

“The significance is it’s going to level the playing field,” Cogliano said. “It ensures the city of Quincy is going to obey the law and respect the constitutional right of all construction workers.”

With a downtown redevelopment on its way and several projects ongoing in the city, the ruling can have a big practical effect.

"It certainly opens up a lot more opportunities for merit shop contractors that are qualified and responsible,” Cogliano said.

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