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New Survey Shows Overwhelming Support for Union Electrical Contractors

Residents Don’t Want Cheapest Bidder on Government Construction Projects

A majority of residents surveyed in six Michigan counties prefer union electricians over nonunion ones for electrical work on their homes, schools and government buildings -- even if it costs more, according to a new survey.

Commissioned by IBEW NECA 665 and IBEW NECA 252, the survey asked 400 residents in Clinton, Eaton, Ingham, Jackson, Livingston and Washtenaw counties a variety of questions related to the electrical construction industry.

The results show that the vast majority — 86.3 percent — of residents do not want local school and government officials to automatically choose the cheapest bidder for electrical construction projects. Instead, residents say officials should consider factors such as the amount of safety training electricians have completed.

“Following PA 105 of 2015 and the repeal of Michigan’s prevailing wage law, many local officials may mistakenly believe they are obligated to choose the cheapest qualified contractor for construction jobs. They are not,” said prominent Michigan labor attorney John Canzano. “Local officials are perfectly within their rights to set certain responsibility criteria to help guide their decisions.”

Responsibility criteria could include things like:

  • Documentation of MIOSHA-approved safety training, and any citations by OSHA or other regulatory agencies.

  • Evidence of compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act.

  • Participation in a bona fide apprenticeship program and if so, ratio of journeypersons to apprentices to be used on the jobsite.

  • Information as to employee fringe benefits, including health insurance, retirement and savings plans.

Canzano said while local units of government are prohibited from requiring contractors meet criteria such as these, they are not prohibited from using them to determine whether a bidder is a responsible contractor and if so, more or less responsible than other bidders.

“While local governments cannot require a contractor or its employees to participate in an apprentice program, for example, it can consider whether a contractor participates in a bona fide apprentice program and consider such participation favorably in determining the contractor’s responsibility status,” Canzano said.

Factors such as safety training and quality are critically important when it comes to electrical work because faulty electrical systems cause nearly 40,000 residential and commercial fires every year, with hundreds of deaths, thousands of injuries and nearly $10 billion in damages, according to data from the U.S. Fire Administration spanning 2003-2016.

“Many nonunion contractors tell people there is no difference between union and nonunion electricians, but that’s false,” said Bryan Benton, NECA Michigan Chapter Assistant Manager.

“The fact is, the union apprentice program guarantees electricians successfully complete more than 40 hours of safety training, including 30 hours of OSHA training, just within the first year of apprenticeship. If a nonunion contractor doesn’t participate in a bona fide apprenticeship program, they can’t make that guarantee.”

Factors that survey respondents believe should be considered by local officials when hiring electrical contractors include whether they guarantee equal pay for women and minorities (80%); the amount of safety training and on-the-job supervision apprentices receive (78%); and that they provide good wages, healthcare and retirement benefits to employees (77%).

IBEW NECA 252 Business Manager Ryan Husse said there have been many examples throughout Michigan over the years of faulty wiring causing injuries and deaths.

“Safety and quality issues can be avoided if local officials ask more questions of those they hire to do dangerous electrical work on their facilities,” Husse said.

Andy Mosser, Assistant Chapter Manager, NECA Michigan Chapter, said the survey results aren’t surprising when you consider that choosing an electrical contractor isn’t much different from other big purchases that consumers routinely make, like buying a new car or refrigerator.

“You carefully weigh things like quality and safety against cost to choose the option that gives you the best value for your money. You don’t just automatically choose the cheapest option,” Mosser said. “You make the most responsible choice. That’s what residents want their local officials to do as well.”

“It’s clear that residents and taxpayers want public officials to hire licensed, responsible union contractors instead of outsourcing projects to the cheapest bidder,” said IBEW 665 Business Manager Tom Eastwood. “We hope this survey is a wake-up call for our government officials to prioritize safety, quality and responsibility over the bottom line.”

The survey, administered by Denno Research, polled residents age 18 and older between Feb 21 and 25. The 400 respondents were surveyed by landline and cell phone. The survey’s margin of error is plus/minus five percent and participation was stratified based on census data.


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