Booker mulling union agreement in Newark, but tradesmen say it may not be enough

The City of Newark may soon adopt an ordinance requiring union labor on a large portion of all construction that occurs in the city.

The ordinance, passed in a unanimous vote by the city council last week, would require a project labor agreement on all construction projects of $25 million or more where the developer has been offered a tax abatement by the city.

A project labor agreement requires all trades workers on the project belong to an organized labor union.

The ordinance also would apply to public works projects valued at $5 million or more.  The measure is on Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s desk, but there is no indication whether Booker plans to sign the ordnance.  Asked to comment, Booker spokeswoman Kim DeHaarte said she could not get an answer Tuesday.

According to Essex County Building Trades President Marty Schwartz, the PLA ordinance is the product of years of negotiations between the Essex County labor group and the Booker administration.

“I expect him to sign it,” Schwartz said.

Statewide, Democrats are watching Booker to see if he will sign the labor friendly agreement, particularly as Gov. Chris Christie continues to make inroads with the building trades.

Booker was not a popular man among the trades earlier this year when he vetoed a similar measure that would have required a PLA on any tax abated project worth over $15 million. At the time, Schwartz said Booker’s reasoning was that the dollar value was too low and not competitive with Jersey City, which has an ordinance on the books similar to the one passed by the council last week.

According to one union official who asked to remain anonymous because he was not part of the negotiations, Booker’s veto was a slap.

“The mayor has a problem because of the fumble that happened before,” The official said.  “And there aren’t going to be a lot of people who have a sudden conversion.  If he was running today and it was a choice between Christie and (Booker) I think the trade unions would be with Christie.”

Should Booker fail to sign the agreement again, one Democratic operative said, it will alienate the trades unions further, potentially sending them into Christie’s arms even as the Brick City mayor mulls over a challenge to the Republican governor.

“Christie has the trades cheering for him and Cory is pissing them off,” said one Democratic operative.

Last week, Christie got a strong reaction during a town hall specifically for the building trades.  He stood on the stage with Bill Mullen,  president of the New Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council, who told a reporter that Christie supports prevailing wage, one tenet of the PLA.

At least one attendee at the town hall suggested the trades could back Christie in the coming election.

“Don’t be shocked if Building Trades is with him in the end,” a worker told PolitickerNJ.com . “There are more people packed in here today than there were for Corzine.”

"He evolves like any other politician who knows how to flip a foe into a friend when necessary. He’ll do whatever it takes to survive."
—Bergen Record columnist Charles Stile, on Gov. Christie's sudden embrace of the way unemployment data is collected