Joseph Perpiglia is the President & CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors, Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter.
Many municipalities, counties and school boards in Eastern Pennsylvania have chosen to enact Responsible Contractor Ordinances (RCO). These ordinances are marketed to local officials to ensure local bidding processes are protected from irresponsible bidders; however, the way they are authored have proven to have negative impacts on the communities that enact them.
Councilwoman Grace Crampsie-Smith introduced an RCO, in her view, to assure that contractors working in Bethlehem City are participating in apprenticeship programs that are registered with the state. At the August 17, 2021, Bethlehem Public Works Committee – a committee in which she Chairs – the Councilwoman asked: “How can the city be sure if a company is qualified and responsible, unless we can prove they are participating in apprenticeship?” According to this statement, the Councilwoman is of the opinion that only contractors that participate in state-blessed apprenticeship programs are “responsible” or worthy to do work in the city. We beg to differ.
ABC finds such policies to be exclusionary, and frankly, discriminatory, as do business owners and local officials. In fact, City Controller George Yasso explained that the city already has robust procurement procedures, which are consistently refined to assure only qualified contractors are awarded work. Controller Yasso provided data and rationale, which suggests the ordinance is redundant and would exclude reputable and responsible contractors that have already done work for the city.
If enacted, the RCO would have negative effects. In other municipalities that enacted similar rules, some have repealed all or parts of the RCO, or had to bid jobs multiple times because contractors could not meet the new requirements. Ironically, the RCO could shut out small, local, and minority/woman/veteran owned businesses – which the city is trying to promote through other proposed ordinances. Given this, we see the RCO to be a solution in search of a problem.
The bottom line is apprenticeship is just one form of training workers. Why would the city want to single out only one form of educational training? To be clear – apprenticeship is a training method. Non-union companies provide employment first, and then enroll apprentices in a program after an employee is hired. Apprenticeship programs are highly regulated by the state and require time and monetary investment, which many small businesses cannot afford to make or chose not to make. This choice does not mean they are irresponsible or unqualified. Further, 60-year-old rules written by the unions force non-union companies to have 4 supervisors for each apprentice. Under the same regulation, unions may set supervisory ratios through their collective bargaining agreements and can adjust them according to their needs. This is another reason why a business owner may choose not to participate in an apprenticeship program – the rules they would have to abide by discriminates against them and their workforce needs.
This all begs the question: What is the reason for this ordinance? While many have provided arguments and testimony on why the RCO would be bad for the city, the councilwoman has yet to explain what the city would gain from the RCO, how it would benefit taxpayers, and how it would improve the existing procurement process.
Because this is a complicated issue, the Associate Builders and Contractors of Eastern Pennsylvania is available as a resource and will continue to educate councilmembers on what’s at stake.
It is our understanding the RCO will be moving ahead in the council’s process, with the request from councilmembers that amendments be adopted. ABC, which represents contractors regardless of affiliation, believes we should be included as one of the stakeholders, along with many others, rather than a one-sided approach. We encourage a dialogue with city officials, local businesses, and council members before any rash decisions are made. Like any construction project, the more time spent preparing, makes for a better finished product.