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Virginia lawmaker calls for probe of Dulles Rail labor pact

A Northern Virginia lawmaker is asking Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to investigate a labor agreement that critics claim could drive up the cost of the of the Dulles Metrorail project by requiring contractors to operate under a union-friendly labor rules in the right-to-work state. Del. Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax, is the latest in a line of Virginia officials to blast the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority's decision to require the labor agreement for the second phase of the multibillion-dollar project, which includes building a Metro station at Washington Dulles International Airport.

In a letter to Cuccinelli, Hugo claimed that the airports authority appears to have violated its own ethics code as well as state conflict-of-interest statutes by allowing board member Dennis Martire, vice president of the Laborers' International Union of North America, to vote for the agreement.

Hugo charged that the union Martire represents would "reap a financial windfall" as a result of the agreement.

"Should MWAA move forward with this ill-advised measure, it will discriminate against nonunion construction firms and the 96 percent of construction workers in Virginia who have chosen to not belong to a union," Hugo wrote. It will also "discourage competition; and ultimately greatly increase the overall cost of the project."

Authority attorneys ruled Martire did not have a conflict of interest and could vote on the agreement. David Miller, a spokesman for Martire's union, said the group stands behind that decision. Martire could not be reached for comment.

Should contractors win the bid, the agreement would require them to provide union wages and benefits and hire union workers even though the construction will take place in Virginia, a right-to-work state -- which means an employee can't be forced to join a union to get a job.

Critics of the labor agreement, citing studies from the Boston-based, free-market think tank Beacon Hill Institute, said it will increase project costs by 12 percent to 18 percent. The cost of the second phase, originally estimated at $2.5 billion, has already jumped by over $1 billion, most of which will be paid by Loudoun and Fairfax counties and Dulles Toll Road users.

Proponents note that a similar agreement was used with few complaints for the first phase of the project. In that case, however, the agreement was not mandated by the authority. It was voluntarily adopted by Dulles Transit Partners, the contractor on the first phase, after it won the contract bid.