IOWA CITY — State regents were urged by a Coralville legislator to support using project labor agreements on large construction projects in an e-mail before a board vote on the issue this month.
And while the eventual Board of Regents vote was 5-4 to negotiate a project labor agreement for an upcoming University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics project — and that vote was split along political party lines — several regents said they don’t think political pressure swayed the decision.
“It is clearly an issue, you look at the way the votes fell, that has some political overtones,” regents President David Miles of West Des Moines said this week. “But at the end of the day, the board makes independent decisions and I think that’s what happened here as well.”
The nine regents received an e-mail from Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, two days before the June 9 meeting where the board voted on using a project labor agreement for a planned $73 million UI Hospitals outpatient clinic in Coralville. In his e-mail, Dvorsky asked the board to require project labor agreements for all construction projects totaling more than $25 million. They are collective bargaining agreements, negotiated between a project’s owner and local unions, that define the terms and conditions of employment. Gov. Chet Culver issued an executive order directing state agencies to consider such agreements for large projects.
Dvorsky this week said it’s not unusual to lobby members of state boards and commissions, including the regents, regarding certain topics. In this case, he wanted to make sure the regents considered project labor agreements because he thinks they help guarantee timely completion, fair wages and safety.
“I just thought it was prudent for them to look at it,” he said. “They get lobbied all the time for various issues.”
After Dvorsky’s June 7 e-mail to board members, Regent Michael Gartner of Des Moines forwarded the message to Miles and wrote “This is an example of the political peril in this issue.” Miles, as board president, also received an email in April from James Larew, general counsel for Gov. Culver, asking to communicate with Miles about how the project labor agreement concept will be advanced within the regent bidding process.
It’s unusual for the board to have a 5-4 vote, and Miles said he can’t recall a previous vote split down party lines. And while that may raise the concern of some people regarding this vote, Miles said within the board, members maintain respect for each other’s opinions and trust each other.
Miles, Gartner and the three other Democrats — Ruth Harkin, Bonnie Campbell and Rose Vasquez — voted in favor of negotiating a project labor agreement.
Regent Bob Downer, an Iowa City attorney, was one of four Republicans on the board to vote no. He has been satisfied with the board’s existing construction process and thinks it has yielded good results, and therefore didn’t think a change necessary. But he said he didn’t feel political pressure on the vote.
“I don’t think it probably would be accurate to say that it was in no sense a political issue,” he said. “But I thought both sides stuck to the merits. There was not what I perceived as either overt or subtle political pressure.”
The regents directed hospital leaders to seek to negotiate a “mutually acceptable” project labor agreement for the clinic project. The agreement will be presented to the regents for approval Aug. 5.