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Trade association slams Huntsville’s Mazda-Toyota project, AL-5 hopeful Dale Strong

Trade association political endorsements are typically noncontroversial in nature. However, a statement one organization offered in a recent endorsement may have overshadowed the promotion of its preferred candidate.

Earlier this week, the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of North Alabama announced its support of former Huntsville City Schools superintendent Casey Wardynski’s congressional bid.

Wardynski and Madison County Commission chairman Dale Strong are contending for Alabama’s fifth congressional district seat, a position that will be vacated next year by outgoing U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville).

In announcing the endorsement, ABC decried the utilization of Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), which are bargaining deals entered into by private companies and labor unions that set forth the terms of specific construction projects.

“ABC opposes use of Project Labor Agreements, especially government-mandated PLA’s. In the run-off race for US Congress – AL 5, the contrast between the two candidates regarding the issue of the Merit Shop philosophy is stark,” ABC said in a statement, going on to tout Wardynski’s position on organized labor.

ABC then took aim at Strong over his involvement in Huntsville landing the $2.3 billion Mazda Toyota Manufacturing (MTM) plant, which included a company-led PLA deal.

The association took exception to the process in which MTM’s ownership chose to hire labor for the plant’s construction.

“[C]onversely, Wardynski’s opponent in the June 21 run-off election has a track record of welcoming Project Labor Agreements (PLA’s) to the Tennessee Valley,” the association alleged. “In their efforts to attract the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing assembly plant, state and local officials turned a blind eye to the project owner’s clear intent and consistent historical practice to require a PLA for the construction of the MTM facility.”

MTM was not under mandate by any local or state governing body to enter into a PLA for plant construction.

RELATED: Mazda Toyota Manufacturing begins production, plans to increase workforce to 4,000

In accepting ABC’s endorsement, Wardynski’s campaign asserted that the candidate “loves our builders, subcontractors, and every individual skilled worker who deserves job security and he will always fight for them against PLAs that force employers to bring in out of state contractors!”

The Strong campaign went on the offensive against Wardynski over touting ABC’s endorsement of his candidacy, citing the association’s opposition to the deal.

“Nothing Casey Wardynski says these days surprises me,” stated Strong in a release. “So far he’s blamed me for a gas tax the legislature passed, attacked me for allowing new neighborhoods in Madison County and now for my role in bringing 4,000 jobs for local families.”

He continued, “On this attack let me say I am guilty as charged. And I would do it again. Mazda Toyota is a huge win for our community and continues a twenty-year partnership that began when I worked to bring the first Toyota Engine plant to Madison County.”

At the time of the project’s announcement, the Limestone County-based MTM plant was celebrated as a positive economic development initiative for the state of Alabama.

In January 2018, former President Donald Trump took to social media and applauded the successful recruitment effort.

“Good news: Toyota and Mazda announce giant new Huntsville, Alabama, plant which will produce over 300,000 cars and SUV’s a year and employ 4000 people,” wrote Trump in a tweet. “Companies are coming back to the U.S. in a very big way. Congratulations Alabama!”

Even as the project was widely regarded as a success for rural Alabama, ABC derided the agreed-upon deal.

“This particular PLA not only required every worker on site to be a union member, but also extended through the companies in a way that even their employees working elsewhere would be unionized,” added ABC. “In addition, the PLA extended beyond the main plant to supplier facilities who would locate on the site. This resulted in taxpayer funds supporting forced unionization of workers, which affects the same result as President Biden’s Executive Order and in several ways, was worse.”

The association concluded, “More specifically, local governments’ endorsement of MTM’s forced unionization of its construction excluded local construction companies and their employees who believe in and work under the Merit Shop philosophy, resulting in millions of construction dollars leaving the state in the pockets of union contractors.”

RELATED: Mazda Toyota Manufacturing to boost Alabama investment by $830 million

Strong chastised ABC over its “crazy” criticism of the automotive manufacturer and noted that he would not intervene in MTM’s private business affairs. The congressional hopeful also stated his opposition to the Biden administration’s labor policy regarding federal construction projects.

“Mazda Toyota is a private company, and they will manage their construction contracts as they see fit,” advised the commission chairman. “I do not support Joe Biden and his project labor agreements for federal construction projects, but I am certainly not going to tell Mazda Toyota how to manage their business or lose a $2.3B project to North Carolina because of a crazy position like this. I also think Wardynski and the ABC leadership are misinformed. Many local contractors worked on the Mazda Toyota plant and employed hundreds of nonunion workers.”

The Huntsville and Athens City Councils, along with the Madison, Limestone and Morgan County Commissions unanimously approved the MTM incentive package in 2018 with the support and assistance of Gov. Kay Ivey.

The MTM plant is within the portion of Huntsville’s city limits that extend into Limestone County, and the City of Huntsville approved the largest incentive package among the local governments involved. As such, Yellowhammer News sought comment from Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.

In response to the request for comment, Battle hailed “the support of every community partner” in attracting the company to North Alabama.

“When Huntsville secured the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing project in 2018, it was the most significant economic development success story benefitting Alabama in recent decades,” said Battle in a statement to Yellowhammer News. “Since the announcement, the MTMUS project has produced more than 6,600 automotive-related jobs and created an automotive supplier ecosystem destined to generate employment opportunities and wealth for our community for decades to come.”

“We appreciate the support of every community partner who helped bring MTMUS to fruition,” added the mayor. “A legacy project of this magnitude provides many opportunities for various sectors of our economy. During the MTMUS construction phase, numerous nonunion contractors and suppliers (local and regional) were involved. The City of Huntsville looks forward to a long and prosperous relationship with our MTMUS partners.”

Dylan Smith is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSmithAL