WEB EXCLUSIVE: D.C. may force GW to to switch building contractors

The District could force GW to switch contractors for the new Elliott School of International Affairs building if it fails to comply with laws it currently violates, D.C. officials announced Thursday.

Miller & Long Co. has until May 31 to adopt an acceptable apprenticeship program to hire and train D.C. residents to work construction projects throughout the city.

Members of the Washington Interfaith Network, a coalition of 50 churches and two labor unions, protested May 7 outside Mayor nthony Williams’ office.

In addition to the apprenticeship violations, the group also claims Miller & Long fails to offer D.C. residents first choice of jobs through the Department of Employment Services, which would constitute a violation of D.C.’s first-source employment agreement for projects financed with city bonds.

“The law is intended to ensure that when money from taxes gets spent, it benefits D.C. residents,” said Martin Trimble, lead organizer for the Washington Interfaith Network. “There’s a lot of people in D.C. who need work.”

The group asked D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams earlier this month to force GW to replace Miller & Long as subcontractor for the Elliot School project on E Street.

“We have been working with Miller & Long and hope to be successful (conforming to D.C. law) by the end of next week,” University Senior Counsel Charles Barber said.

The University requires contractors to sign the first-source employment agreement “in good faith,” Barber said. He said GW officials did not know the company failed to sign the agreement. Barber said the University will operate in accordance with the law.
Contractors working on projects of $500,000 or more in the District, such as the Elliott School building, are required to have registered apprenticeship programs. Miller & Long is the only one of GW’s 23 active contractors and subcontractors in violation of the agreement, Barber said.

All tax-exempt organizations can participate in the D.C. industrial revenue bonds program, which provides an inexpensive way to borrow money, Barber said. GW requested bonds for the Elliot School project in 1999.

Barber said the problems between Miller & Long and the city predate GW’s involvement with the company.

“(They’ve) had longstanding problems with the District,” he said. “GW finds itself caught in the middle.”

Trimble said the University and the firm do not deserve the two-week grace period the District placed on GW last week to see that Miller & Long installs an apprenticeship program.

“GW has known about this for four or five months,” he said. “They turned a blind eye to it until we started (protesting).”

The Department of Employment Services has rejected the firm’s proposed apprenticeship proposals in the past five years. Miller & Long officials believe the company’s plans were rejected because they were not union programs, but District officials say the company refuses to meet proper apprenticeship requirements, Barber said.

“They’re more interested in making money than following city requirements,” Trimble said, calling the firm “rabidly non-union.”

“They don’t want to invest in people,” he said.

Barber said the District decided to use its leverage with the bonds to go after the firm on the GW project.

City bonds also fund Miller & Long projects at the National Academy of Sciences building on Sixth and E streets and the Georgetown Incinerator project.

Miller & Long officials did not return phone calls Friday.

“I just want to bring both sides together,” Barber said. “We’re cooperating and hoping to bring Miller & Long around.”

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