Des Plaines aldermen to revisit union-friendly bidding rules

Updated 7/27/2015 5:36 PM

Des Plaines aldermen appear willing to revisit the city's controversial responsible bidder ordinance because they say the union-friendly rules are costing the public money.

The ordinance, approved in 2011, requires companies bidding on city contracts over $25,000 to have active apprenticeship and training programs approved and registered with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Alderman Jim Brookman, the lone council member to vote against the ordinance when it was proposed, is leading a push to get the rules changed after a similar effort narrowly failed in 2013. The council voted 5-3 at the time to undo the rules, but after Mayor Matt Bogusz issued the first veto of his tenure, the council didn't have the six votes required to override him.

Now, with two new council members since those votes were taken, aldermen are expected to discuss repealing the rules at the council's Aug. 17 meeting.

The issue came up once more after the council recently considered two contracts where low bidders were rejected because they did not have apprenticeship and training programs.

In June, the council approved a $142,660 contract for renovations to the second floor of city hall where the police department's records section is moving. It was $28,760 more than the low bidder.

And last week, aldermen rejected all three bids received for a landscaping project on a five-block stretch of Northwest Highway because they were over the $100,000 budgeted for the work -- though the lowest bid, for $120,897, was from a company that didn't have an apprenticeship and training program.

"The responsible bidder ordinance is costing us very significant money, and it's also costing us competition," Brookman said at the council's July 20 meeting.

Supporters of the ordinance, including Bogusz and trade unions, have argued the rules mitigate the city's risk by ensuring those working on public projects receive the best training for the job.

Tim Oakley, the city's director of public works and engineering, said responsible bidder ordinances are not typical in other suburbs, especially for smaller projects like landscaping or building improvements. There are similar ordinances on the books approved by Cook County, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, and state of Illinois.

Of the aldermen still on the council, Brookman, Mike Charewicz, Patricia Haugeberg and Dick Sayad voted to overturn the ordinance in 2013, while Jack Robinson and Denise Rodd were in favor the rules.

Alderman Don Smith said Monday he would likely vote to overturn the ordinance, leaving new Alderman Malcolm Chester as a potential swing vote for a veto-proof majority.

Chester said he's undecided, but he's also sensitive to those residents in his 6th Ward who belong to unions.

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