The Wall Street Journal reports today that the state’s Department of Transportation (ultimately overseen by Gov. Cuomo) may be overstepping its bounds in forcing contractors to manage their workforces under union rules if they want to win construction projects.

On the $70 million Hudson Valley highway project in question, the low bidder was a non-union firm, Lancaster Development. Lancaster says that its goal in employing non-union workers is not to skimp on wages, but to have more control over its workforce:

Lancaster says its complaint isn’t about paying union-level wages—the state already sets a ‘prevailing wage’ for public works—but is about union work rules and its ability to choose its own workers. The company says stricter job classifications would force it to hire more people than necessary to fill the job. And it says an influx of union workers under its employ could trigger a vote to organize.

Lancaster also argues that the agreement punishes its nonunion workers attached to the job by forcing them to pay union dues on long-term benefits that they won’t ever get if they resume their nonunion jobs.

The Journal notes that State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, whose office must sign off on contracts, is looking into this one to see if the governor has treated all bidders, including Lancaster, fairly.

With dwindling dollars to spare either for road transportation or mass transit, New York should be using its power of the purse to cut labor costs, including working with responsible non-union contractors who don’t want to be hemmed in by someone else’s agreement.

E.J. wrote about this story a while back, too.

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