TALLAHASSEE -- Two unions filed a lawsuit Thursday objecting to the state's attempt to side-step an agreement from 2009 to use federally certified union signal workers in the signal construction of the $1.6 billion SunRail commuter line.
The Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS) and the Florida AFL-CIO filed the suit in Leon County Circuit Court, asking a judge to remove the company that won the signal bid, a subcontractor of Archer Western called RailWorks, and replace it with United Signal, a union rail carrier covered by federal union and retirement protection laws.
The unions said they hoped the subcontractor could be removed and replaced with United without any disruptions to the time-table for completion of the project, which calls for trains to roll in mid-2014. But, they said, safety was more important than expediency.
"We can't afford to have one wreck," said Sidney L Matthew, general counsel for the unions.
The groups are arguing that when the Legislature approved the SunRail project in 2009, House and Senate leaders along with the Florida Department of Transportation's secretary and Gov. Charlie Crist's office had signed off on a deal to hire federally certified rail carriers for the line construction and maintenance.
This spring, FDOT put the work out for bid twice, ultimately selecting RailWorks although the unions called the process a "sham."
But instead of challenging the bidding process, the unions are going straight to court -- and said Thursday they would take the fight to the Florida Supreme Court if necessary.
"Why should we go through a Mickey Mouse bid protest?" said Matthew. "When is a deal a deal?"
The rail line is slated to run through the heart of Orlando. The Legislature fought for two years over the giant project, which called for buying freight lines from CSX Corp., a major Jacksonville-based rail company that spends heavily on lobbyists and political campaigns.An FDOT spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.