Legislation that gives the Conn. Dept. of Transportation the option of using design-build (DB) as an alternative project delivery method and allows municipalities the option of using project labor agreements (PLAs) on public projects currently awaits Gov. Dannel Malloy's signature to become law. An aide in the governor's office says that he will sign the bill, which passed the House and Senate earlier this month, when it reaches his desk.

The governor has already voiced support for the DB legislation, which he says puts Connecticut "in a better position to get federal money for critically important investments in our state's infrastructure." He has also said he supports the PLA amendment to the legislation, which was a temporary sticking point for some state legislators.

PLAs are not "unfunded" government mandates and would give municipalities an option, Malloy said in a May 2 statement. "At a time when too many people in our state are still searching for gainful employment, project labor agreements ensure that we have the best trained workforce in place for our more important projects," he said.

The addition of the PLA amendment came on the heels of a Supreme Court decision in favor of a contractor who challenged a PLA requirement last year on two school construction projects in Hartford. The contractor, Electrical Contractors Inc., Hartford, which was the lowest bidder on the work, argued that its bid was rejected after it refused to sign the mandatory PLA. The case sparked debate among lawmakers, union and non-union industry players.

The case also "opened the door for the concept that project labor agreements may not be legal in Connecticut," says Lelah Campo, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Conn., Stratford. She says her organization supports giving ConnDOT the option of using DB, but that, with the PLA, lawmakers "skipped the normal legislative processes—they never held a public hearing and didn't follow any of the normal processes where it would go to all the different committees for debate."

However, the language of the amendment specifies that PLAs may not require compulsory union membership, Campo says. "The [legislators'] intent is that no open shop should have to pay into any union funds and that no non-union worker would be forced to join the union," she says. Therefore, the amendment "might actually have a good outcome" for open-shop contractors hoping to bid on public projects that have PLAs.

"But, since the bill just passed a week ago, it is just too soon to know whether the governor is going to sign it and it's too soon to be completely clear on whether the bill will open the door to have equal opportunity for open shops on PLA projects," she adds.

The amendment also gives municipalities the option of using PLAs on school projects with contract values greater than $10 million, Campo says.

Meanwhile, if the bill becomes law, Connecticut will become the 47th state to authorize use of the DB project delivery method for transportation projects, says the Design-Build Institute of America, Washington. Iowa, Nebraska and Oklahoma are the only states without DB procurement authority for transportation projects, the organization adds.