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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rail gets no-strike promise

By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Mayor Mufi Hannemann held a news conference yesterday in which he, trade union leaders and the contractor for the first phase of the city's $5.5 billion rail project signed an agreement that calls for construction to continue until completion without labor stoppages.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Ronald Taketa of the carpenters union said the agreement won't force contractors to unionize.

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Contractors working on Honolulu's planned $5.5 billion train project will be required to provide workers with union-type benefits, under an agreement announced yesterday by Mayor Mufi Hannemann.

In exchange, major trade unions have agreed to not strike or disrupt the availability of labor during the project's duration. The city expects to break ground on the 20-mile elevated rail line between East Kapolei and Ala Moana early next year. The project is expected to open in phases between 2012 and 2019.

Thousands of jobs are expected to be created and the agreement between the city and 12 major labor unions should ensure the use of local labor and high-quality construction, Hannemann said. The agreement also will help keep the project on budget and on schedule, he said.

"What this is all about is to minimize work slowdowns and stoppages," Hannemann said at a news conference at Honolulu Hale. "This is a working relationship with those who have a vested interest in making sure their workers are working."

Non-union contractors working on state projects already must pay union-level wages. Under the agreement, roughly one-third of non-union worker wages will go into union trust funds. That money will then be used to provide non-union workers with union-type vacation, health care, pension and other benefits while they work on the project.

It's the first time the city has signed such an agreement, Hannemann said. However, similar agreements have worked successfully in Seattle and San Francisco, he said .

The use of such agreements on federally funded projects was banned by President George W. Bush. That executive order was overturned by President Obama. According to the Web site of the Springfield, Va.-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, project labor agreements result in cost overruns and higher construction costs. That's because they ban the use of non-union contractors that want to make lower-cost bids and lock out employees who don't want to join a union, according to the group.

Ron Taketa, financial secretary of the 7,200-member Hawaii Carpenters Union, said yesterday's agreement does not force any contractors to pay higher wages, nor does it does not force them to unionize . What the agreement does is assure cost certainty by eliminating the risk of labor disruptions, Taketa said.

"The unions have agreed that there will be no work stoppages or slowdowns for the duration of the project so the city can expect that the project will proceed uninterrupted by any disruptions or slowdowns on the part of the union," he said.

Other private sector labor unions signing the agreement include the Operating Engineers, Iron Workers and Laborers International Union of North America.