A sixth casino would create jobs, but for whom?

It seems you can't turn on the television or the radio this summer without hearing some voice extolling the virtues of bringing a sixth casino to Maryland —this one to be built inPrince George's County. And while there is an active public dialogue on the issue of expanded gaming, it is important for Marylanders to understand what is being promised and what may underlie the rhetoric. One particular element of the proponents' campaign deserves clarification — the jobs promised.

As The Baltimore Sun reported on July 13 ("National Harbor ad claims not supported by state analysis") there is much that is misleading in the ad campaign paid for by Building Trades for the National Harbor, which urges the public to support a sixth casino. In the misleading category is the claim that a "resort casino in Prince George's County would create thousands of good paying jobs," presumably for Marylanders.

The truth is that while there may be thousands of construction jobs in building a new resort, those jobs would be largely closed to the Maryland workforce. As a result of an agreement the developer of the National Harbor project has indicated he will sign, the new casino would be built under what is called a project labor agreement.

A project labor agreement (PLA) is an agreement between developers of construction projects and construction unions, under which construction firms must work as union shops; they must enter into collective bargaining agreements with the unions and hire union workers through union hiring halls. Where PLAs are required, the jobs are limited to a union-only workforce, which compels merit shop contractors like me to forgo my own trained employees for workers whose quality and ability are unknown to me.

There are currently 146,215 construction workers who live and work in Maryland. These are the men and women who build our hospitals and our schools. They refurbish hotels and repair roads and bridges. Their handiwork, skill and craftsmanship literally dot our landscape from the Eastern Shore to Garrett County.

But of these 146,215 workers, only 11 percent have chosen to belong to a union. Under a PLA, almost 90 percent of our construction workforce would not be eligible for the jobs to build this new resort casino. And, for local minority and women-owned firms, 95 percent of whom do not belong to unions, the result is a virtual lock-out of the competitive bidding process. This would include my company, a Baltimore City-based merit shop construction firm and minority business, which I have worked hard to build for over 40 years.

Maryland has a proud tradition of union and non-union (or merit shop) construction firms working side by side, without labor unrest, on literally thousands of projects all across the state. All of these workers have been significantly impacted by our nation's sagging economy and are just now beginning to see a rebound.

We know that labor unions urge the use of PLA's as a means of ensuring that workers receive good wages, benefits and apprentice training. But the truth of the matter is that the state's prevailing wage law ensures that workers, union and non-union alike, are similarly compensated on public works projects. Rather, as taxpayers we should be wary of any proposal that that would restrict competition and would discriminate against nearly 9 out of every 10 Maryland construction workers.

No matter what our views on this gaming issue, we would hope that any major construction project would be open to all Marylanders — not just the select few who have chosen to belong to unions. No Marylander should suffer the injustices of discrimination, whether we are talking about race, age, sex or labor affiliation.

Pless B. Jones Sr. is the owner of P&J; Contracting Co. and president of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association. His email is pless.jones@pandjcontracting.com.

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