State lawmakers reflect on how to turn infrastructure spending into a career for Delaware

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State lawmakers are considering a proposal to give unions a more direct hand in determining working conditions and stopping public works.

State Representative Larry Lambert (D-Clemont) says his bill, with more than $1 billion in federal infrastructure investment for Delaware, will help create training and career opportunities for Delaware blacks and women, who are grossly underrepresented in the construction industry

The bill would require agreements between government or private contractors and unions on large public works projects. The agreements would set working conditions and reserve training and jobs for women and other underrepresented groups.

Contractors can reserve 10 percent of jobs for their crews, while the other 90 percent are filled on union recommendation. Labor attorney Ray Heineman says it will also help foreign contractors be hired locally.

“If they come from Pennsylvania, they don’t bring their entire workforce,” he said. “You walk through local union halls here in Delaware and we get referrals. Through our apprenticeship programs, we develop local construction workers in Delaware communities.”

Lambert and Heineman argue that the bill would not prevent any contractor — state or local — from applying for public works projects. For large infrastructure projects, foreign contractors are relatively common; For example, in fiscal 2021, 29 percent of the Delaware Department of Transportation’s construction contracts went to foreign firms, and 37 percent of contracts as of the beginning of fiscal 2022 went to foreign firms.

The Delaware Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of Transportation oppose the bill, arguing that negotiated agreements could slow projects and create unexpected costs. OMB Director Cerrone Cade argued before the House Working Committee last week that negotiating the deals could slow or increase the budget of major construction projects.

“There’s no real insight into whether these things are going to go back into bidding if these people can’t come to an agreement,” he said, “and there’s no real understanding yet of what the cost of negotiations will be.” ” Yes or no. Cade also suggested that some unions might prioritize their members in neighboring states over non-federal Delaware during the referral process.

The House Working Committee unanimously passed Lambert’s bill last week; It now goes to the floor of the house.

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