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Controversial Pro-Union Ordinance Passes in Brick Amidst Heavy Debate

Supporters of a Project Labor Agreement ordinance pack the council chambers in Brick Township, Sept. 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

Supporters of a Project Labor Agreement ordinance pack the council chambers in Brick Township, Sept. 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

The Brick Township council adopted, in a 6-0 vote – with one abstention – a Project Labor Agreement ordinance, which will allow only certain union-affiliated firms to bid on contracts in town worth more than $5 million.

The PLA ordinance, as it is known, also comes with a slew of mandates for contractors and has been cited in numerous studies as increasing the cost of public construction projects by about 30 percent. Its proponents hold that pre-construction labor union agreements provide apprenticeship and other programs that ensure a higher level of job safety, requirements that local residents are trained and hired for projects as opposed to out-of-state workers, as well as offer better pay and benefits for workers. Detractors have derided the policies as wasteful influxes of money to politically-connected labor organizations that steer work away from local contractors, minority-owned companies and start-ups that cannot afford to comply with dozens of regulations and work rules that will be required on every such project. A copy of the ordinance and various documentation on costs appears at the end of this story and in a previous story Shorebeat published on the matter.

The PLA ordinance affects only public projects worth more than $5 million. Private construction projects are not affected by the ordinance, nor are municipal projects that do not meet the $5 million threshold. At the moment, there are no public projects in Brick that exceed the $5 million price tag, nor have there been in many years.

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The municipal building was packed Tuesday night with supporters wearing pro-union tee shirts and carrying signs. There was little in the way of organized opposition. No members of Brick Township’s Republican party spoke during a public hearing on the ordinance, including the candidates currently running for mayor and council. An attorney from the firm of Fox Rothschild, a powerful Philadelphia-based law firm that handles real estate, construction and labor issues, spoke briefly on specific language included in the ordinance, but did not identify his client.

Opposition also came from Samantha DeAlmeida, CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors of New Jersey, which represents small construction businesses and merit shops with their own apprenticeship programs. She said her organization boasts 21 members in Brick that would now be locked out of bidding on large-scale public contracts.

“Taxpayers will pay the burden of the cost, and taxes will increase,” said DeAlmeida.

John Gonzalez, another township resident who said he is a member of the local laborers’ union, said his career choice allows him to resident in Brick in the first place.

” I don’t just have a job, I have a career that will enable me to retire with dignity one day,” he said.

Rocco Lapore, another township resident who said he served as an official with the carpenters’ union, said he and his colleagues are “the safest, most professional and most dedicated workers in New Jersey.”

“Local projects should be built by local workers, and we’re fortunate to have some of these people here today,” he said. “A PLA opens the door to a new generation of local workers.”

Brick’s ordinance, now adopted, would guarantee that many of the jobs that are produced in a major construction project flow to Brick residents through specific labor organizations selected by the township council. The ordinance would require that 20 percent of the labor hours required as a whole as part of a project are reserved for Brick residents, and 100 percent of the apprentices hired are Brick residents. But contractors would also have to manage apprentice programs with significant state monitoring and data collection requirements, which opponents say is beyond the capabilities of small business owners.

Some residents said the ordinance would reduce competition for the projects that would ultimately cost taxpayers the most.

“Who is going to bid on these jobs, based on all the requirements?” asked resident Vic Fanelli, who said he once served as a shop steward in a union during his career as an aircraft mechanic. “Who in their right mind is going to bid on a contract in Brick? Are you kidding me? It’s almost like, ‘why are you doing this?’ All this talk about bringing small businesses into Brick – I think this is going to have the opposite effect.”

Another resident whose name was inaudible agreed.

“I think that it should be pointed out that all bidders must be qualified to bid,” union or not, she said. “This would limit the work over $5 million to only union workers. You’re going to get the best work from the most qualified people when you open it up to everybody. I think it’s important to recognize those people and consider that.”

Another resident asked, with no big-ticket projects on the horizon, what prompted the council to consider such an ordinance now? The question was not answered, though some in Brick government have quietly surmised that the PLA ordinance is seen by some as a way for incumbent Democrats to curry favor with labor organizations in the run-up to November’s major election, which will determine the council majority and control of the mayor’s office.

After about an hour of back-and-forth debate, the council voted 6-0 to adopt the PLA ordinance. All six Democratic members of the council voted in favor of the ordinance, while the lone Republican member of the council, Perry Albanese, abstained from voting. He did not provide a reason for his abstention.

Before casting her vote, Councilwoman Marianna Pontoriero, an attorney, said the ordinance is important for a “blue collar town” like Brick, in order to give more workers local job opportunities.

“We have almost all blue collar families and citizens,” said Pontoriero. “I consider this one of the top five most important ordinances I’ve dealt with in a decade over the council.”


Read the Ordinance:

Read the Toms River Bid Comparison Study (Two Parts):

Read the New Jersey Department of Labor Report (Pre-Municipal):

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