By: Scott P. Fisher

Local contractors say they’re being shut out of the $750 million Wishard Memorial Hospital project. Although inclusiveness of all community sectors was touted as important to the success of the project, Wishard is using a Project Labor Agreement, or PLA, for the project. The use of this type of agreement in the past has generally excluded non-union workers, which make up 80 percent of the local contracting workforce.

Matt Gutwein, CEO of Health and Hospital Corp., which operates Wishard, denies workers were being shut out, and has said the project will employ both union and non-union labor. “(The PLA) creates a level playing field that gives us real protections to make sure this project gets done on budget and on time,” Gutwein said. JR Gaylor, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors, an organization that represents many non-union shops, disagrees. Gaylor penned an article in the Indianapolis Star on January 8, 2010 relating that many area high profile projects were constructed under similar PLAs without the use of non-union labor and came in late and/or over-budget including Conseco Fieldhouse ($8 million over budget), the Central Library (two years late, $50 million over budget), Lucas Oil Stadium ($75 million over budget), Indianapolis International Airport (more than a year late).

When Marion County citizens overwhelmingly voted for the city to help Wishard launch the project in November, they reasonably expected this public project would provide jobs and boost our struggling construction industry. Although according to Tom Ringham of Wishard the PLA has not yet been finalized, the inclusion of the PLA seems to suggest many local contractors will have to watch.