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Labor Law Issues May Begin to Impact Green Construction

There have been a couple of interesting articles recently that suggest the pending intersection of labor law and green building. First, you probably read about a complaint that was recently filed with the NLRB by workers who attempted to unionize while installing a green roof on the Target Center in Minneapolis. In addition to alleging a number of safety violations, the workers claimed that the contractor paid them the prevailing wage for landscapers- not for roofers, who earn $20 more per hour. The $5.3 million installation was a city project, and officials, along with OSHA, investigated the workers’ safety concerns earlier in the spring, finding that “the contractors lived up to the specifications of the contract to ensure safety.” From a prevailing wage rate perspective, is the installation of a green roof more akin to landscaping than roofing? This was the contractor’s argument and, I think, a neat example of how green construction practices continue to introduce legal wrinkles into even the most traditional of practice areas.

However, what got me thinking a bit more seriously about the intersection of green building and labor law was an article discussing the California Labor Federation’s two-day conference held earlier this month in San Francisco, where topics across a number of workshops included green real estate development and the creation of green construction jobs. One of the plenary speakers, Greg LeRoy, whose topic was “the emerging green economy,” noted in his remarks that “there are only two reliabile predictors of job quality, unionization and job quality standards. [W]hile some green employers are open to collaboration, others pay poorly and fight unions.” Mr. LeRoy also pointed out that “there are no labor standards in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED system.” Is it possible that future versions of LEED might require some type of labor standard for the trades, perhaps by requring that owners who pursue LEED ratings enter into some sort of project labor agreement with local unions or pay prevailing wage rates? Could USGBC itself integrate certain labor requirements into LEED itself? I am not a labor lawyer, but it seems to me that with increasing emphasis, particularly here in New York City, for example, on educating the trades about green construction practices, these types of labor law issues will become increasingly common in the green building context. Any thoughts?

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One Response to Labor Law Issues May Begin to Impact Green Construction

  1. Geoff White June 17, 2009 at 11:21 am #

    I spoke at an AIA seminar last week and discussed the Target Center matter and the general consensus was this is the type of issue that will appear again and again on green building projects funded from the Recovery Act due to prevailing wage compliance issues.

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