Des Plaines keeping union-friendly bidding rules, for now

Updated 9/22/2015 6:35 PM

Des Plaines' controversial responsible bidder ordinance is staying put for now, though some aldermen indicated they might still try to dismantle pieces of it.

A push to overturn the union-friendly city bidding rules failed on a 4-4 vote at a city council meeting Monday, to the delight of a standing-room-only crowd of union members who packed council chambers and implored aldermen to keep the ordinance as is.

The ordinance, approved in 2012, 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.

Some aldermen suggested the city revisit the rules in July after the council was forced to reject low bids from firms that didn't have apprenticeship and training programs.

Critics say the rules drive up costs and reduce competition, while supporters say they ensure the best labor for the dollar.

But since aldermen didn't have enough votes Monday to overturn the ordinance completely, some aldermen suggested a compromise that could come back for a vote at a later date.

Alderman Jim Brookman, the lone alderman to vote against the responsible bidder ordinance when it was originally proposed, said he would be willing to live with the ordinance if it affected only projects above $150,000. That, he said, would eliminate the training requirement on smaller projects like landscaping.

Alderman Mike Charewicz said projects on water mains and sidewalks would still be covered under the ordinance.

"The residents want us to spend their tax money on good projects. We need some latitude here, guys," Charewicz told the audience. "We're doing residents a disservice by not changing this up somewhat for those kind of projects."

Bob Reiter, secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, argued that training is needed for projects like landscaping because heavy equipment is often used "that can spin on a dime."

He said even installing carpeting requires the proper training.

"When you operate a public building, something as silly as a bunched carpet can mean an injury that's going to cost taxpayer money," Reiter said. "It's better to get it stretched out."

Brookman, Charewicz, Patti Haugeberg and Denise Rodd voted to overturn the ordinance, while Jack Robinson, Dick Sayad, Don Smith and Mayor Matt Bogusz voted to keep it as is. Alderman Malcolm Chester -- a potential swing vote -- is out of the country, and a motion to delay the vote until he returns failed.

Bogusz vetoed a previous attempt to overturn the ordinance in 2013, and six votes would be needed to overturn a mayoral veto.

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