Proposed Union Project Labor Agreement for Sonoma County Might Just Save the Planet…

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UPDATE: At the link immediately below is the final version of the proposed Sonoma County Project Labor Agreement policy, provided by staff to Jack Buckhorn, Business Manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local No. 551 in Santa Rosa and to Keith Woods, CEO of the North Coast Builders Exchange in Santa Rosa. They are the de facto leaders of the two opposing factions in this fight over the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors requiring contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with unions for certain taxpayer-funded county construction projects.

Proposed Union Project Labor Agreement Policy for Certain Taxpayer-Funded Construction Projects of Sonoma County

Also, here is a link to my earlier report about the development of the proposed Project Labor Agreement in Sonoma County:

Attention Embattled Sonoma County Taxpayers: Prepare for Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to Vote on Costly Project Labor Agreement Policy


Under the horizontal line below is the intended text of the Project Labor Agreement (PLA) policy that county administrative staff is recommending to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors for approval as Agenda Item #42 at the board’s meeting at 2:10 p.m. on the afternoon of Tuesday, September 18. This Project Labor Agreement policy is disguised as something that will bring local contractors and local workers on county construction projects. The term “Project Labor Agreement” is not even mentioned on the agenda!

42.  2:10 P.M. – Adopt a Policy for the Use and Promotion of Local Contractors and Local Workforce on Construction Projects.

To try to make this union Project Labor Agreement appealing to Sonoma County residents, the cited rationale for the policy is environmental protection, resulting from the “local” nature of the project when unions have a monopoly on it.

I’ve seen this tactic many times before. My personal favorite is when the head of the Carpenters Union in San Joaquin County gave this handwritten note to the county administrator: Call It a Local Hire Agreement. As Nicole Goehring (Government Affairs Director of the Northern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors) wrote in a July 19, 2007 opinion piece in the Tracy Press entitled Sneaky Strategy Gives Unions Monopoly:

One interesting document the Associated Builders and Contractors obtained through our public records request was a handwritten note dated Oct. 10, 2006, from carpenters union official Augie Beltran to County Administrator Manny Lopez. The note gives Lopez some public relations advice about the project labor agreement: “When you bring it to the Board, please refer to it as a ‘local hire agreement.’”

Apparently, referring to the project labor agreement honestly as a “union-only agreement” would have tipped off the opposition and the county board about the true intent of the proposal: cutting the competition and increasing the cost of the new County Administrative Center for the benefit of one special-interest group.

You are supposed to believe that when a contractor signs a Project Labor Agreement with a union, it helps to “create a sustainable economy” and “reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” Why? Construction workers who belong to a union or are represented by a union always live close to the job site and might even get there via bicycle, with their tools reclining in handsome recycled leather handlebar pouches. In contrast, construction workers who choose not to belong to a union always come from somewhere far away, probably in smog-belching trucks with a heavy metal tool box in the truck bed. Union officials always point out that non-union workers are never local, no matter where they are, perhaps because they live on libertarian city states on floating platforms in international waters.

Anyone who believes union Project Labor Agreements ensure local hiring have to ignore the claim of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California in its opening brief submitted to the California Supreme Court in State Building and Construction Trades Council v. City of Vista, in which it acknowledges that “construction workers today routinely commute to projects outside the cities in which they happen to live” and “it is not uncommon for today’s construction workers to commute more than 100 miles to work at a job site.”

That’s why the policy defines “local” as someone who is “hired through a Sonoma County-based hiring hall.” Union workers can come from anywhere as “travelers” to be dispatched to a union contractor on a Sonoma County project from a Sonoma County-based union hiring hall. The unions needed a trick to exempt themselves from the residency requirement.


Policy Regarding the Use and Promotion of Local Contractors and Local Workforce on Construction Projects

The County of Sonoma recognizes that strategies that promote the use of local vendors and service providers help create a sustainable economy and preserve local businesses. The use of local businesses helps retain local dollars within the community and strengthen employment.  Using a local workforce can also mean a reduction in transportation, aiding the County’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The County periodically awards construction contracts, which employ significant numbers of employees in various trades and many County residents possess the skills required of such construction efforts and are in need of employment.  The County of Sonoma encourages, within the constraints of current state and federal law, the employment of local contractors and local workforce on County construction projects.

In order to support the use of local hiring and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the County has previously adopted the Local Preference Policy for Goods and Services, the Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Policy, and the Job Order Contracting Program.

To further encourage the hiring of local contractors and workforce and consistent with existing state and federal law and the interests of the public, the County will negotiate project labor agreements (PLA) for significant new construction projects budgeted at over $25 million to achieve the following:

Develop a local, skilled workforce through use of apprenticeship programs and internship programs

Maximize the use of local workforce by encouraging all contractors and subcontractors to bid for and be awarded work on County projects without regard to whether they are otherwise parties to collective bargaining agreements

Contractors and subcontracts may use their own core workforce (defined as persons on the contractor’s or subcontractor’s payroll for 60 of the preceding 100 days)

Contractors and subcontractors agree to use union hiring halls for any new hires beyond their own core workforce

No worker will be required to join a union as a condition of employment, but may be required to pay union representation fees 

Encourage a diverse workforce through outreach to underrepresented businesses and groups, including women, minorities, and veterans

Ensure that in hiring and dispatching workers for the project, no discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or membership in a union or labor organization

Ensure that no  increase in project costs be incurred by the  County related to implementing a PLA or similar agreement

Ensure health, welfare, and retirement benefits are provided for workers

Guarantee no work stoppages or delays due to labor relations disputes, including union-to-union jurisdictional disputes, and provide for expedited dispute resolution with no obligation for the County to intervene in the proceedings to resolve the dispute or grievance

If a PLA or similar project stabilization agreement is pursued, only one agreement per project and all unions must be signatories to the agreement

In negotiating a PLA or similar agreement, staff will take into account the goals listed above as well as the level of risk of labor strife that would negatively impact the project, the project’s budget, schedule, scope and complexity, the number of trades required, and whether use of a PLA or other mechanism would negatively impact the number or quality of bidders.  In all instances, the County must meet all competitive bidding and contracting requirements applicable to public works projects.

“Local” means any of the following:

For contractors:  Contractor has a physical address located in Sonoma County and performs business on an on-going basis at that address, and, if located in a city within Sonoma County, holds a valid business license of that city, if required to do so by that city; or contractor employs a workforce in which greater than 50% of the workers live in Sonoma County.

For workers:  A person who is Sonoma County resident or hired through a Sonoma County-based hiring hall.

Any such agreement must also meet the requirements of Public Contract Code section 2500.

Draft for Discussion Purposes Only

September 7, 2012 version


One comment

  1. […] work in practice and affect air quality and traffic. As I wrote in a blog post on September 14 (Proposed Union Project Labor Agreement for Sonoma County Might Just Save the Planet…), the policy insinuates that unions will provide local workers under the Project Labor Agreement, […]