After reversing the decision to eliminate Cloquet's project labor agreement all together, the Cloquet City Council is now looking to amend the PLA to include things like prevailing wage and a higher cost threshold for projects that require an agreement.
As it stands, the PLA requires contractors who work on city projects that cost $175,000 or more to abide by certain terms and conditions of employment, such as hourly wage rates and fringe benefit contributions.
A January lawsuit against the city sparked months of debate over the PLA, with the council voting 4-3 to eliminate the agreement from city code in May and then repealing that decision in June when Ward 2 Councilor Sheila Lamb changed her vote to favor the PLA.
Since then, city officials have been looking for ways to amend the agreement to make it beneficial to all workers. Two central changes would be prevailing wage and increasing the dollar amount for project costs that trigger the implementation of a PLA.
Increasing the cost threshold for projects that require a PLA would allow the city more flexibility for smaller scale projects, while prevailing wage would ensure the best interest of all local workers, city officials said during a council meeting Tuesday, Aug. 3.
City Administrator Tim Peterson encouraged the council to approach the two PLA changes independently, and said they will be brought for council action through city ordinances in the upcoming months. The council agreed, setting prevailing wage as the first order of business.
Prevailing wage is the minimum hourly wage employers must pay certain workers who work on construction projects, according to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. If it were to be added to Cloquet's PLA, it would eradicate the current language that requires contractors to pay into certain benefits and would guarantee fair wages, Peterson said, adding that city attorneys have advocated for this change since the PLA was established in 2017.
“(It's) hard to find a downside to it," Ward 4 Councilor Kerry Kolodge said. “In my mind, prevailing wage floats all boats, not just some boats. (The) PLA only floats some boats — there’s some winners and losers.”
Ward 1 Councilor Warren "Bun" Carlson, Mayor Roger Maki and Councilor At Large Lara Wilkinson also voiced support for prevailing wage.
Peterson said he will begin working with attorneys to draft an ordinance and a prevailing wage paragraph for the PLA. After it is written, the ordinance will require two separate readings and a council vote.