January 17, 2013

Part Two: ‘Responsible Bidder’ Does Not Mean ‘Union-Only’

Yesterday, I wrote about St. Louis County’s new restrictions on who could be considered a “responsible bidder” for construction contracts. The county is imposing requirements on businesses that, in substance and practice, have nothing to do with the responsibility of the bidder and everything to do with benefiting organized labor. To do so, the county had to warp the intent of the existing law. “Responsible bidder” as a form of legal art is intended to restrict bidding on a government project to those who (1) can reliably perform the services needed, and (2) can do so at the price promised. In other words, the “responsible bidder” construction is intended to ensure that government needs are met promptly and at the best price, to save and maximize taxpayer money.

The county’s apprenticeship requirement, which I discussed yesterday, is onerous enough, but the “no independent contractors for on-site work” requirement makes the intent of the ordinance — to advantage union labor — all the more explicit. In fact, Saint Louis County’s new regulations may actually hurt many small Saint Louis businesses that are not unionized. Adolphus M. Pruitt, of the St. Louis American, offered this blistering response to the ordinance late last month (the whole thing is worth reading):

Additionally, the bill forbids independent contractors from County construction worksites, specifically those who are self-employed. Most African-American truckers who own their own trucks operate as “independent contractors” and thus are forbidden from working on County worksites.

The bidding process is intended to get taxpayers the best deal for their money, not guarantee a special interest seller special privileges over another interest. Union and non-union labor should have to compete on even terms with one another, and the St. Louis County Council was wrong to give unions this sort of preferential treatment in a process meant to protect the buyer’s interests, not a seller’s. Taxpayers deserve better than this.

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