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Union, non-union to play ball on Bucks arena project

Even though the new Milwaukee Bucks arena has a project-labor agreement that some argue directs the work to union companies, at least one non-union subcontractor has managed to get a piece of the project.

Bucks officials on Friday released a list of about 25 subcontractors that have managed to secure work on the $524 million arena. The chosen companies will be taking on a variety of tasks for both the arena and related projects, including demolition, carpentry and earthwork.

Among the subcontractors that were picked is Zander Solutions, a waterproofing and concrete-restoration contractor from Verona. Zander is a member of the Associated Builders & Contractors of Wisconsin, a group that mainly represents non-union contractors, also known as merit-shop companies.


Here are the companies that have been selected to do subcontracting work on the Bucks arena and related projects:

Veit & Co.
Kapur Surveying
R.A. Smith National
Arnold’s Environmental
JCP Construction
Northway Fence
Rams Contracting
Merrill Iron & Steel
Michels Corp.
Staff Electric
US Alliance Fire Protection
Nagel Architect
Bohmann & Vick
Gestra Engineering
Edgerton Contractors
J.F. Ahern

John Schulze, director of government and legal affairs at the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, said he was happy to learn the arena work is not going entirely to union companies. Even so, non-union contractors remain at a disadvantage when trying to bid on the project, he said.

Schulze said project-labor agreements — also known as PLAs — typically call on companies to pay into union-managed pension funds. The requirement falls on both unionized firms and their merit-shop rivals.

Because merit-shop contractors often have their own funds to maintain, they can essentially end up paying twice for the same thing, Schulze said. The additional cost burden can make it hard to submit low bids for subcontracts. What’s more, any money merit contractors must pay into a union fund is usually as good as lost, Schulze said, since it’s unlikely their employees will ever be able to draw on it.

Defenders of PLAs, meanwhile, argue that they help ensure large projects are completed on time and on budget. Companies that sign onto the agreements typically pledge to not strike or take other steps that would slow down construction.

Ken Kraemer, executive director of Building Advantage, said the use of union labor in building the arena means the Bucks will be getting a quality product.

Work got underway in June on the Bucks’ arena, which is being built just northwest of North 4th Street’s junction with West Highland Avenue. M.A. Mortenson, of Golden Valley, Minn., is the construction manager for the job.

Two related projects are meanwhile underway nearby. J.P. Cullen & Sons, of Janesville, is overseeing the construction of the team’s training center, and J.H. Findorff & Son, of Madison, is in charge of building a parking structure next door.

All three contractors were chosen by the Bucks earlier this year.

Of the subcontractors named so far, nearly all have their headquarters in Wisconsin, according to a company list provided by the Bucks.

Jake Suski, spokesman for the Bucks, said the use of local contractors will help spread the arena’s benefits.

“This project has always been as much about revitalizing a city as it has been about building an arena,” Suski said in a statement. “Having local firms involved in nearly every aspect of the construction process maximizes the impact this project will have on the local economy.”

Bucks officials expect the arena to be finished in time for the 2018-19 NBA season.

About Alex Zank, [email protected]

Alex Zank is a construction reporter for The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 414-225-1820.

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