Costly favoritism

If New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio is serious about getting costs under control in his city, and many of his actions up to this point suggest that he is, then he should veto the ordinance sent to him Monday that seeks to mandate union construction jobs on the taxpayer dime.

Pushed by Carpenters Local 24, the ordinance approved 5-2 by the council would require that any business bidding on a city construction project would have to agree to pay workers the state prevailing wage, "participate in a bona fide apprentice training program," and not use "independent contractors."

In promoting the ordinance, the union leaders dressed it in a nice bow, saying the mandated apprenticeship program could be used to train and channel city residents into these projects. That's a worthy goal, certainly, but that is not what this ordinance is really about. It seeks to assure union workers at union wages are getting these jobs and that competing non-union businesses, often smaller companies, are placed at a disadvantage.

Simply put, passing this ordinance is a sop to the labor unions and puts New London at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to attracting competitive bids. The city cannot afford such favoritism, not when it is cutting public safety and public works staffing to balance its budget. A similar ordinance passed by the City Council in 2008 was repealed in 2010 for the very reason it was pushing up construction bids.

And there is no need for it. Connecticut has one of the strongest prevailing wage laws in the country, which kicks in for any state or municipal renovation project above $100,000 or any new construction above $400,000. In other words, it covers almost every project. The state Department of Labor sets a base wage rate that, while not assuring union jobs for such projects, assures good wages.

The lone no votes came from Democrat Anthony Nolan, a union police officer with the city, who wanted a legal review of the ordinance, and from the lone Republican on the council, Adam Sprecace.

Asking a Democratic mayor to veto this union-friendly piece of legislation in a council election year may perhaps be expecting too much. But if this requirement becomes law the cries of the administration and Democratic council that they are doing everything they absolutely can to control spending will ring a tad hollow.

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