ABC Keystone Merit Shop Advocacy Blog

by Jim Willshier, ABC Keystone, Director of Government Affairs

Being Responsible for Countering RCOs

Unfortunately, at the time of publication, there is the perfect storm of increased discussion for Responsible Contractor Ordinances (RCOs), little engagement with the construction community, and a rush to adopt them. While this has been happening in all aspects of local government, it is now happening at the state level with House Bill 1449 seeking to apply a less restrictive RCO on state-level projects, coincidentally sponsored by Representative Josh Siegel (D-Lehigh), who most recently was an Allentown City Council member and saw firsthand the problematic nature of RCOs through Allentown’s turbulent ordinance.

Quickly for anyone unfamiliar with RCOs, they are ordinances adopted by any government entity to restructure how public works projects will be bid moving forward – currently, this includes requirements for a percentage of registered apprentices and, more commonly, creating a new requirement for having prevailing wage apply to prefabricated materials. Proponents advocate this to increase safety and somehow impose accountability on contractors. As many ABC members would suspect, the outcome more often results in a few over-budget bids. This forces a decision to either bite the bullet for that higher cost, embrace the ineffective system, re-bid the project outside the RCO, or repeal the ordinance entirely as a failed experiment. This is such a discriminatory and discouraging project for contractors and subcontractors that few bids are entertained.

In 2023, as the ink dried on the ordinance, the City of Reading had to skirt around its RCO due to few bids. This came after little public discussion in 2 weeks during the December holidays and no answers to public questions. In fact, Right To Know requests still need to be vetted to fully understand the decision process to circumvent the RCO and the bidder selection.

Centre County adopted its county-level RCO at the end of June. While they held three public meetings over three months, they still refused to answer any questions in public meetings or respond to written requests for clarification to help understand how any interested bidder could comply if awarded a contract. There are two large projects on the horizon that we will be monitoring to see how they harm contractors and subcontractors that would have otherwise been able to bid on the project.
Rep. Siegel’s bill has followed a similar path so far: HB 1449 was made public on June 20, was not sunshined for a public meeting on June 21, yet democratic committee staff indicated the intent to meet on June 22 to vote the bill out of committee. They then, in fact did vote along party lines. This left little time for anyone inside the capitol or outside (including relevant state agencies) to understand the bill’s impact.

There needs to be public engagement and a voice for the very contractors acting responsibly and wanting to comply with public projects. One key takeaway for these issues is ensuring you, the member are engaged with local, state, and federal lawmakers. Make sure they know about the successful projects you are doing at home, how many skilled professionals can support families through their job, that you are building safely and responsibly, and the already complicated system you are navigating daily. ABC will keep making statistical and legal arguments for how harmful RCOs are to the community. Please keep making sure public officials hear the moral argument for how you are already responsible and safe.

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