Minneapolis Schools Sued for Requiring Union Labor

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) – A construction trade group representing 22,000 employees filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday challenging the Minneapolis school district’s policy to only grant labor agreements to contractors who use union workers.

Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. Minnesota/North Dakota, or Minnesota ABC, sued Minneapolis Public Schools Special School District No. 1 and Nelson Inz, chairman of the Minneapolis Board of Education, in Minneapolis federal court. Laketown Electric Corporation, a family-owned electrical service company in Minneapolis, joined Minnesota ABC as a co-plaintiff.

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Since 2004, the Minneapolis school district has required any contractor working on one of its project to agree on the terms and conditions in the agreement between the district and a union called the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trade Council, according to the lawsuit.

At issue is the requirement that contractors hire from union halls and pay into fringe benefits funds. Contractors must agree to those terms before they can even submit a bid on a project, the complaint states.

Minnesota ABC and Laketown, represented by lead attorney Thomas Revnew with Seaton Peters & Revnew, claim they will lose out on part of the tens of millions of dollars spent by the school district each year to build or service its facilities if they do not comply with the district’s project labor agreements. 

“A contractor that does not agree to these terms cannot work on a project covered by a project labor agreement, even if the contractor submits the lowest bid,” the lawsuit states. 

Minnesota ABC, a trade organization that represents 350 construction-related firms and 22,000 independent employees, has advocated against the project labor agreements for the last three years. Laketown says it would like to work on projects in the school district without having to first agree to the requirements.

“If a public entity like the Minneapolis Public School District required Republican contractors to hire workers from Democratic hiring halls, or establish a fund to benefit the Democratic Party in order to work on a project, there is no doubt that the requirement would violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit states.

Project labor agreements were once prohibited by the federal government under the George W. Bush administration in 2001 but that executive order was rescinded by President Barack Obama during his first month in office. Currently, 24 states ban such agreements.

Labor unions are often involved in political activities and are associated with particular viewpoints, Minnesota ABC says, claiming its members are being discriminated because their viewpoints differ from the pro-union viewpoints of the school district.

According to the lawsuit, the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trade Council made contributions exclusively to the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party last year, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers spent most of its $254,000 in political expenditures on DFL candidates.

Minnesota ABC and Laketown seek an injunction preventing the school district from enforcing the union hiring and fringe benefits provisions of the labor agreements, claiming their First and 14th Amendment rights are being violated.

One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Wen Fa with Pacific Legal Foundation, said the school district “requires contractors to take workers from union hiring halls at the expense of their own workers.”

“It’s no surprise that these project labor agreements serve as a barrier to entry to qualified contractors that are unwilling to upend their business. This ultimately hurts not just contractors, but taxpayers who have to pay more as a result of these anticompetitive agreements,” Fa said in a statement.

The school district said it is in the process of reviewing the lawsuit and declined to comment beyond saying it is “aware of the concerns.”

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