Phoenix council doing unions' bidding (again)

October 14, 2014
The Arizona Republic
Editorial Board

Our View: Upending a Sky Harbor Terminal 3 contract was nothing but a power play. Let's end this expensive charade. Today.

The Phoenix City Council majority is at it again, doing the bidding of its political benefactors in organized labor.

It started Oct. 1, when the council's agenda included the $103 million first stage of renovating Terminal 3 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Preparations for this vote had been in motion for well over a year. General contractors had been selected. Plans were in place to begin moving airline and airport operations equipment out of the terminal.

And then, Councilman Michael Nowakowski asked for a delay of two weeks. He had additional questions.

"Nothing problematic," Nowakowski said. "Nothing to really stop it, but I would like these questions to be answered, and I recently received some concerns from people. So I would like to have some briefing from the staff."

Nowakowski never explained what prompted his concerns or who those concerned "people" were.

Staff told the council a delay would add $1.9 million to the cost. No matter. Mayor Greg Stanton and councilmembers Kate Gallego, Laura Pastor and Daniel Valenzuela joined Nowakowski in a 5-4 vote. On behalf of "concerns from people."

Mayor Stanton declared he was sure "Nowakowski's request is in good faith."

Others think not. In a furiously worded letter sent to the council a week later, representatives of the Arizona Builders Alliance and the Associated General Contractors called the vote "a mockery of the law" and a "thinly disguised attempt at a political payoff to organized labor."

Mark Minter, executive director of the Arizona Builders Alliance, confirmed on Tuesday that representatives of the skilled-trades unions had arranged meetings with the project's general managers during the delay.

"The general contractor has been approached by the trade unions," he said. "I believe they had a meeting scheduled for (Tuesday)."

That's a meeting that couldn't have occurred without Nowakowski's "questions."

Arizona law provides for an open and fair system for hiring sub-contractors and labor on public works projects. The law does not require union labor.

This is at least the second time this year the council has looked out for its friends in organized labor.

The same five council members delayed a routine approval of liquor licenses for the new owners of the Ranch Market supermarkets — a delay prompted by their allies in a food-handlers union that wanted to organize Ranch Market's workers.

That time, the council's interference did not cost taxpayers financially. This time, the delays added at least $1.9 million to the cost of the design-build Terminal 3 project, and conceivably could threaten its completion timetable.

Union labor — especially the skilled trades — can be an asset to big public-works projects like Terminal 3. It can be an assurance of quality workmanship.

But rather than affirmatively promoting the assets that union trades bring to the table, the Phoenix council instead is operating by subterfuge. Tendentious kabuki-style gamesmanship — like the theatrical Oct. 1 council meeting — only raises questions about council members' motives.

Prior to last fall's council elections, Councilman Valenzuela declared his commitment to the labor cause in a union bulletin. His observations are proving prescient: "With the increased engagement of unions on local races ... the tides of power are shifting to union-friendly members on city councils throughout Arizona."

It is one thing to be "union friendly." It is quite another to be union friendly at the expense of taxpayers. The majority of the council is forgetting who it represents.

The council is scheduled to reconsider its delay vote today. It is time to end this expensive charade.

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