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Union issues at Roundhouse riles builders group official

January 24, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The president of a local builders association used the word "discriminatory" to describe the agreement Roundhouse Authority members entered into that demands union workers be used if contractors need additional personnel while restoring the Martinsburg Roundhouse.

Joan Warner, president of the local chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., a nonunion group, spoke about the issue Thursday morning to the Berkeley County Commission.

Warner, who called the policy "discriminatory" against nonunion workers, said she believes the Authority's decision will negatively affect county workers, many of whom are not union.

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"It's affecting your people here. Your taxpayers. Your local workers," Warner told the county commissioners.

Roundhouse Authority Chairman Clarence E. "CEM" Martin said in an interview after the commission meeting, which he did not attend because he was out of town, that the agreement in question does not demand that only union workers be used.

Any contractor, union or not, can bid on upcoming work projects, but they must use union workers if they do not have enough employees to do the job, Martin said.

An impetus behind the decision was the Roundhouse's history, he said.

In 1877, railroad workers, unhappy with low wages, went on strike at the Roundhouse. The protest is now considered the nation's first strike and a portion of the Roundhouse may be turned into a museum dedicated to that event, Martin said.

Considering the building's history, Martin said he felt the decision regarding union workers was the right one to make.

Martin said local union workers often must travel to Washington or Baltimore to find work because of few local jobs.

The agreement came about after local union officials met with the Roundhouse Authority, Martin said.

Dale Householder, with Air-Row Sheet Metal Co. Inc. in Martinsburg, said that as a former 25-year union man he knows why union workers want the Roundhouse agreement, called a Project Labor Agreement, or PLA.

"They are not for the good and welfare of the local community. They're to organize," Householder said. "It's nothing more than a union ploy to gain members, to gain strength."

Berkeley County Commission President Howard Strauss said the PLA was done without the commission's consent.

As a result, bids solicited for projects that will use grant money administered through the county will not contain the union stipulation, Martin said. Neither will projects built with federal money, since President Bush declared federal funds cannot be used with PLAs.

The contracting work in question has not yet been put out for bids. It is estimated that work to restore the Roundhouse will cost between $10 million and $15 million, and includes work on walls and floors, along with wiring, landscaping and HVAC contracts, Martin said.

The Roundhouse is off Martin Street in Martinsburg.

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