In the beginning of Charles Dickens’, A Tale of Two Cities, the novel opens with, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” This could not be any closer to the truth in the bi-state area that makes up the Quad Cities in terms of responsible contracting.
On one side of the majestic Mississippi River, we have the Illinois Quad Cities consisting of Moline, Rock Island, and East Moline. Each of these towns have Responsible Bidder Ordinances (RBOs) and two of them have ordinances that use the IMPACT Agreement. The IMPACT Agreement is a locally branded project labor agreement (PLA) for projects over a certain dollar amount, ensuring pre-hire terms and conditions of employment for building trades locals and contractors on a per project basis. The Quad Cities on Illinois’ side of the river have higher construction standards, which protects taxpayer dollars from dubious lowroad contractors.
On the other side of the river, we have the Iowa Quad Cities consisting of Davenport and Bettendorf. Now I know what you’re thinking: quad means four and you just listed five cities, but you will just have to accept that we do things a little different here. Davenport and Bettendorf are prohibited by state law from enacting any local ordinance that allows them to review a bidder’s qualifications on public construction projects. The Quality Construction Destruction Act, a law signed in 2017 by Republican Governor Terry Branstad, restricted local control over project bidding and prohibited local communities from entering into PLAs in Iowa.
An August 26, 2022, article by Jason Clayworth in Axios Des Moines found several instances where Iowa’s 2017 Quality Construction Destruction Act resulted in project delays and fraudulent business practices by a non-responsible contractor. The contractor in question is subject to more than $1.7 million in lawsuits linked with government construction projects. Due to the 2017 Quality Construction Destruction Act, city officials were advised not to consider previous track records on other projects of the lowest bidder. Project after project without project labor agreements are being delayed due to projects being awarded to nonresponsible contractors and ongoing labor shortages post COVID-19.
A May 2022 study conducted by the University of Illinois’ Project for Middle Class Renewal (PMCR) and the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) found that union contractors are 21% less likely to experience delays due to worker shortages and are 8% more likely to add workers over the past year. The study also notes that union construction workers are 34% more likely to have private insurance coverage and are less reliant on taxpayer subsidies like food stamps.
Iowa’s 2017 Quality Construction Destruction Act has had a devastating impact on quality construction and has likely cost the taxpayers in both botched construction and social services such as healthcare costs for the uninsured. It is time for Iowa to realize the short comings of low road construction and its true high cost.
From the Fall/Winter 2022 Issue of The Monitor