Construction workers and union members for the Purple Line light rail project protested outside the Silver Spring Civic Building on Wednesday evening that state, union and contractors for the project establish a project labor agreement for the Purple Line. Credit: Photo by Steve Bohnel

This story was updated at 11:45 a.m. May 26, 2022, to clarify why the Purple Line project has been delayed. 

While state and project officials briefed elected leaders and Montgomery County residents inside the Silver Spring Civic Building on the status of the light-rail Purple Line project on Wednesday night, dozens of construction workers were outside, carrying signs bearing the messages “We Want Our Jobs Back,” “Keep Your Word To Workers” and “No Broken Promises,” among others. 

The workers carried the signs and chanted in protest of recent labor disagreements with Maryland Transit Solutions, the contractor for the construction of the Purple Line, a 16-mile, 21-station light-rail that will run from Bethesda to New Carrollton. State and project officials have projected the system will start carrying passengers in the fall of 2026. The initial deadline was in 2022.

The project has faced delays from the start, initially due to lawsuits filed by communities along the planned route in 2014, and then because the prior general project contractor walked off the job due to cost overruns and project delays.

Construction was halted in September 2020 by design-build contractors Purple Line Transit Constructors (PLTC). The state and contractors of the project settled in November 2020 for $250 million due to cost overruns and project delays.

The state selected a new contractor in November 2021. Purple Light Transit Partners, the consortium leading the project, picked Maryland Transit Solutions, which includes the subcontractors of Dragados USA Inc. and OHL USA Inc., and state officials gave approval in the months after

Outside the civic building, workers from the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) protested that Maryland Transit Solutions had declined to honor an existing project labor agreement (PLA) that had been reached between the union and the prior contractor.

Del. Lorig Charkoudian (D-Silver Spring), who attended the protest and forum, said in an interview that such an agreement leads to better safety requirements and working conditions and ensures that contractors and workers meet timelines for construction projects like the Purple Line. 

State officials had told the Board of Public Works during the winter months of 2020-2021 — whose members then were Gov. Larry Hogan (R), Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) and Treasurer Nancy Kopp (D) — that a similar PLA would be honored under a new contractor. The board is charged with overseeing large state contracts.

But it’s unclear whether such an agreement will be negotiated or whether the existing agreement will be honored. Charkoudian and the unions are pressuring the state and contractor to reconsider the decision not to implement a PLA.

“At this point, I’m cautiously optimistic and I’m strongly encouraging the Purple Light Transit Partners [the consortium overseeing the project] to get it right,” Charkoudian said. “If it doesn’t happen, we’ll have to look at what levers we have from a legislative or an executive [standpoint].”

Victoria Leonard is political and legislative director of the Baltimore-Washington Laborers’ District Council, which is an affiliate of LIUNA. At Wednesday’s protest, she said she and other union representatives found out recently about the decision by the state and the contractor not to honor the PLA.

When the first contractor walked off the job, 500 union members were laid off, including 265 LIUNA workers, Leonard said. Those workers are at risk of losing their jobs and their benefits.

“If [the state and contractor] don’t sign that agreement, those folks can’t go back to work … it’s really the quality of the job that’s at stake,” Leonard said. 

Leonard and construction workers say they hope that applying political pressure and protesting will convince those in charge to honor the PLA. She said she believes the state and contractor are trying to save money by hiring different workers at lower wages — and notes there also are safety, quality and timeline concerns since the 500 laid-off employees were well-trained and familiar with the project requirements. 

Doran Bosso, CEO of Purple Line Transit Partners, said in an interview Wednesday that he’s optimistic that a deal can be reached between the state, Maryland Transit Solutions and the union.

“That dialogue is still ongoing, and we look forward to reaching a solution,” Bosso said. “But again, our focus is to deliver this project on time, and to the highest possible quality.”

Bosso said there is no firm deadline to reach an agreement, but he added that doing so is a “priority” for his team — and he hopes an agreement can be reached in the coming months.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com