Although the lawsuit filed against the City of Quincy last week pointed only to the Central Middle School bids as being unconstitutional, a Wednesday hearing on the matter may change bidding requirements for any city project in the future.
The city recently came under fire from a non-union group, listed as Merit Construction Alliance; Grasseschi Plumbing & Heating Inc; D'Agostino Associates Inc; and David Ross. The group argued that several requirements in their Central Middle School bidding documents are unconstitutional.
Included in the complaint was an insistence to eliminate the residency requirement as well as abolish apprenticeship program requirements, health and welfare plan requirements, and pension plan requirements, as those provisions are pre-empted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and violate Massachusetts bidding laws.
The day after the suit was filed on March 12, the city's architect Ai3 sent out a message to all interested bidders, saying that "due to an order issued by the U.S. District Court, the City of Quincy will not be receiving or opening bids scheduled for today, March 13, 2012."
Bids were postponed by two weeks, and at Wednesday's hearing,a judge will determine whether the plaintiff should be granted a preliminary injunction.
If granted, the injunction would halt the city from releasing bids with the listed issues until a decision on the constitutionality of the requirements is made, either by summary judgment or after a trial on the matter.
"We're asking for it to not only apply to this project, but any other public projects in Quincy. If we're right that these provisions are unconstitutional, it's true for all," said Christopher Whitney, attorney for the plaintiff's. "The court is not going to want to visit every issue with every project Quincy puts out to bid. If the court grants an injunction on this project, it would likely on any project."
Going forward from that, the process could take anywhere from three months to over a year for a final decision to be issued.
If the preliminary injunction is not granted, the city could go about its usual business as they contest the merits of the case in the background.
The trial is already following a similar arc to a lawsuit in Fall River, where a different group contested similar bidding ordinances and won relief.
Soon after the Fall River decision was issued, Ron Cogliano, president of Merit Construction Alliance, sent the city a letter asking for the city to drop some of the requirements.
"We brought this to their attention in December, and they did nothing about it. We sent an email to the owners project manager, to the city solicitor," Cogliano said. "There are other cities who are following in line once the Fall River decision was issued. City of Worcester suspended enforcement; Springfield and Holyoke declined to enact a similar ordinance. Organized labor goes from city to city, and we're trying to convince city councilors and mayors to [suspend] these ordinances."
When Quincy didn't comply and released bids with the requirements anyway, the group decided to take the matter to court.
In addition to seeking relief from the requirements, if successful, Cogliano says his group will also seek attorney fees.
"In Fall River, they paid $150,000. If we prevail in Quincy, and that's a big if, we could get the attorney's fees. And taxpayers are on the hook. Another reason we wanted to avoid this," he said.
Although Quincy's case is close to that of Fall River, mayoral spokesperson Christopher Walker said they are different enough that the lawsuit is worth contesting.
"The mayor is fine with standing up for a law that requires contractors to give Quincy jobs to Quincy people and requires them to pay fair wages and employee benefits... if you're the mayor of a city of 100,000 people, providing jobs when available to the residents of your city is obviously going to be a top priority."
Walker said there is no concern that the city may be on the hook for attorney's fees.