House poised to override Governor Baker on Holyoke Home project labor agreement

Hampden County


BOSTON (SHNS) – Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget office cautioned lawmakers on Tuesday that if they override the governor’s veto of a project labor agreement for the $400 million Holyoke Soldiers’ Home construction project they could be jeopardizing $260 million in federal reimbursement.

The warning from the Baker administration came Tuesday as state representatives were told by Speaker Ron Mariano’s office to be prepared to consider an override of the governor’s veto, which he issued in May, when they meet on Wednesday. The project labor agreement, which would require contractors to use union labor on the project, passed both branches unanimously as part of a broader bill to finance construction of the soldiers’ home.

“Overriding the Governor’s veto will significantly increase project costs for the much-needed reconstruction of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and deliver a blow to supplier diversity by effectively blocking small minority, women, and veteran-owned Massachusetts-based businesses from bidding on the contract,” said Patrick Marvin, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Administration and Finance. Marvin said the use of a project labor agreement would “threaten the Commonwealth’s ability to keep the project within $400 million and jeopardize our ability to receive the 65% reimbursement from the Federal Government.”

Rather than finance the Holyoke project, the Veterans’ Administration could choose to fund multiple other projects around the country at the same cost, the administration said. Some lawmakers, like Rep. Danielle Gregoire, have contradicted Baker’s assessment of the impact a PLA could have on the project. Gregoire defended its use, saying PLAs have been used successfully in the past on public construction projects and she believes it will actually increase the diversity of contractors on the project.

If the House overrides the governor’s veto on Wednesday, the matter will move to the Senate where a vote has not yet been scheduled. Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues this spring recommended a financing bill that did not include a PLA, only to see his colleagues insert the clause in the final bill that passed the chamber unanimously. The Senate meets next on Thursday.

House Poised to Override

House members will be asked by Democratic leadership on Wednesday to vote again to require that construction of a new soldiers’ home in Holyoke be done under a project labor agreement, meaning contractors would have to use union labor to qualify to work on the project.

The controversial labor agreement was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Baker in late May from a broader bill providing the $400 million in financing needed to move forward with building the new soldiers’ home. House lawmakers have been told to expect a vote to override the governor’s veto, which requires a two-thirds majority, when the branch next meets on Wednesday.

Baker, in his veto message, said the PLA would add to the cost of the project and also reduce opportunities for minority, women and veteran-owned businesses to bid for contracts as part of the project. House Democrats included a PLA in its financing bill that passed 160-0, and the Senate added the union language to its version after Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues released a draft that excluded the provision.

The bill with the PLA passed the Senate 40-0. While Democratic leaders disagree with Baker’s contention that PLAs limit competition and discourage minority-owned construction firms from bidding on public contract, the House also plans to consider an order that would direct the Joint Committee on Racial Equity, Civil Rights, and Inclusion, co-chaired by Rep. Bud Williams, to study the participation of people of color, women and veterans in Massachusetts’s public contracting process.

The committee is new this session, and so far has held one hearing focused on gathering input about what issues the committee should focus on over the course of the next year. The House meets Wednesday at 11 a.m., with roll calls expected to begin at 1 p.m.

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