|Building Trades members and their allies met in the parking lot of city hall before the council meeting.
Around 200 members of the Building Trades and their allies came out to rally at the Cloquet City Council meeting on March 21, but even that wasn’t enough to convince the council to keep the city’s private PLA ordinance. It overturned the ordinance on a 5-2 vote.
“Elections have consequences,” said Dan Olson, business manager and secretary-treasurer at Laborers 1091, outside the council chambers after the meeting. “This isn’t over.”
The vote came after the motion had been tabled at the city council meeting two weeks ago and members of the council and Holly Hansen, community development director for the city of Cloquet, agreed to meet with the Building Trades.
Before Tuesday’s meeting, there was a listening session where council members could ask questions. Andrew Campeau, Duluth Building and Construction Trades Council president, outlined the data the Building Trades had brought to that meeting, data that consistently shows that PLA projects finish on time and under budget, and follow industry best-practices for construction and safety.
Tim Watkins, education and policy coordinator at the Fair Contracting Foundation of Minnesota stressed that PLAs do not reduce competition.
“We’re here to defend what we think is a good agreement,” Olson told the chamber. “We’re here as your partner. We’re trying to get you to protect language that is advantageous to Cloquet; we think leaving the language in there helps you protect your investments.”
Councilors implied the Building Trades had been spreading misinformation about overturning the ordinance and accused union leaders of not driving enough private development in Cloquet.
Campeau acknowledged that there is a concern that if the language mandating PLAs for private projects over a certain amount, the public PLA could also come under scrutiny by the chamber.
Cloquet Mayor Roger Maki said it was “disingenuous” to pretend that union leaders were “looking out for Cloquet. Don’t try to act like Cloquet is more important than the union.”
Campeau said earlier in the meeting that there were more than 600 Building Trades members who lived in Cloquet; about 5 percent of the population supporting themselves and their households on union work.
Attorneys for both sides clashed at the end of the listening session, as Hansen had said statements from business owners supporting overturning the ordinance were under an NDA because they did not want to speak publicly on the issue. The Building Trades filed a data request to get that information.
“This isn’t the way government is supposed to work,” said Tim Andrew, an attorney for the Building Trades, adding that transparency is key in public discussions.
William Helwig, Cloquet city attorney, claimed he had gotten a letter from the Building Trades that threatened the city with a lawsuit if it didn’t comply with the data request. “He said this should be more transparent; I got a letter saying we’d be sued. That’s not friendly.”
Andrew denied that there were any threats in the letter sent to the city.
During the actual city council meeting, the resolution to overturn the ordinance passed quickly after no discussion. Councilors Sheila Lamb and Liz Jaakola were the two “no” votes.