Signing the Union Project Labor Agreement to Work at the San Diego Unified School District Is a Perilous Exercise

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UPDATE, September 7, 2012: I found a letter embedded in one of the grievance files that actually belongs to another grievance not provided to me by the SDUSD (I’ve added it to the list below), and I’ve learned about another grievance not provided to me by the SDUSD. I will be asking the school district to do a second check of their files, so my compilation of grievances is complete.


In the past 18 months, a few small construction companies have contacted me after unions tangled them up in costly and confusing contractual issues related to working under the Project Labor Agreement imposed by the board of education of the San Diego Unified School District. Contractors must sign this Project Labor Agreement with the San Diego Unified School District and unions in the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council to work on construction projects of $1 million or more funded by bonds sold under the authority of Proposition S, approved by voters in November 2008.

The school board approved this union agreement in 2009 on a 3-2 vote, to the great jubilation of union officials. As a result of a subsequent 5-0 vote of a new school board in July 2012, the union agreement will also apply to construction funded by bonds sold under the authority of Proposition Z, if voters approve that $2.8 billion bond measure on the November 6, 2012 ballot. (The San Diego County Taxpayers Association is opposed to Proposition Z.)

To ascertain the extent of the difficulties that small contractors can experience when signing this Project Labor Agreement, I requested the following records from the San Diego Unified School District:

All records generated by the SDUSD or provided to the SDUSD since July 28, 2009 concerning disputes and grievances between and/or among contractors and unions and the district that have been addressed under Article VI of the Project Stabilization Agreement (Work Stoppages and Lockouts), Article VIII of the Project Stabilization Agreement (Work Assignments and Jurisdictional Disputes), Article IX of the Project Stabilization Agreement (Management Rights), and Article X of the Project Stabilization Agreement (Settlements of Grievances and Disputes). For example, please provide all records, including grievances, concerning disputes between the Operating Engineers union and the Laborers union over trade jurisdiction.

I obtained the records in person at the school district headquarters last week. (The main receptionist and the staff at Legal Services were quite helpful, even though I arrived at 4:55 p.m.)

Unions have filed TEN at least ELEVEN grievances under the Project Labor Agreement as of the end of July 2012. Nine At least ten were against construction companies, and one was against the school district.

The San Diego Unified School District has compiled a log listing the grievances filed by unions under the Project Labor Agreement. This log does not completely match up with the actual documents. The list and summary below is based on the actual documents provided by the school district about the grievances:

Operating Engineers Union Local No. 12 went after Crown Fence Company for having a worker on the job site who was not referred from the union hiring hall. The union demanded $64.54 per hour worked by the employee to be paid into a union trust fund. See SDUSD PLA Grievance Crown Fence Company.

Ironworkers Union Local No. 229 went after Triton Structural Concrete claiming that the company improperly assigned bleacher construction to trades other than the Ironworkers. In the end, the union decided to “respectfully withdraw the grievance” so the bleachers could be finished on schedule for mid-September 2011. It appears that Worldbridge Technologies may have also been involved in this dispute. See SDUSD PLA Grievance Triton Structural Concrete.

Operating Engineers Union Local No. 12 went after FenceCorp., Inc.  for having a worker on the job site who was not referred from the union hiring hall. The union demanded $64.54 per hour worked by the employee to be paid into a union trust fund. See SDUSD PLA Grievance FenceCorp, Inc.

Plumbers and Pipefitters Union Local No. 230 went after Rand Engineering claiming that the company improperly assigned “installation of piping for potable water, sewer, and storm drain” as work under the Laborers jurisdiction rather than the Plumbers and Pipefitters jurisdiction. It appears that Quality Plumbing may have also been involved in this dispute. See SDUSD PLA Grievance Rand Engineering.

Plumbers and Pipefitters Union Local No. 230 went after Bert W. Salas, Inc. claiming that the company improperly assigned “installation of piping for potable water, sewer, and storm drain” as work under the Laborers jurisdiction rather than the Plumbers and Pipefitters jurisdiction. The two unions fought over the assignment, the Project Labor Agreement administrator Parsons Construction, Inc. became involved, and there was an arbitration hearing. See SDUSD PLA Grievance Bert W. Salas, Inc.

The United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers Local Union No. 45 went after A Good Roofer, Inc. because the company did not submit its fringe benefit package to the Project Labor Coordinator for evaluation to determine if it was equivalent or better than the union package. The Roofers union demanded that A Good Roofer, Inc. pay employee fringe benefits (as designated in the union collective bargaining agreement) to the applicable union trust funds, along with interest, costs, and liquidated damages. See SDUSD PLA Grievance – A Good Roofer, Inc.

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Union Local No. 569 went after Logical Choice Technologies claiming that certain work performed by the company’s employees was covered under the scope of the Project Labor Agreement. The contractor contended that the work was excluded under Section 2.3 of the union agreement. The dispute went to arbitration and lawyers became involved. See SDUSD PLA Grievance Logical Choice Technologies.

The United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers Local Union No. 45 went after Mark Beamish Waterproofing claiming that the company improperly assigned “installation of Polyguard below-grade waterproofing” as work under the Painters union jurisdiction rather than the Waterproofers union jurisdiction. The two unions fought over the assignment, the Project Labor Agreement administrator Parsons Construction, Inc. became involved, and lawyers were called in. See SDUSD PLA Grievance Mark Beamish Waterproofing.

The United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers Local Union No. 45 went after Roger H. Proulx claiming that the company improperly assigned waterproofing work to the Laborers union. The company changed the classification of the work. See SDUSD PLA Grievance Roger H. Proulx.

NEW ADDITION: The Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local No. 89 went after Mission Valley Landscape claiming that the company improperly assigned work to the Landscaping and Irrigation (Plumbers) Union Local No. 345. See SDUSD PLA Grievance Mission Valley Landscape.

The San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council went after the San Diego Unified School District claiming it improperly determined under Section 5.2 of the Project Labor Agreement that Standard Electronics had a fringe benefit program equivalent to the program administered by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Union Local No. 569. See SDUSD PLA Grievance SDUSD & Standard Electronics.

This is more evidence for non-union contractors (especially subcontractors in certain trades) that signing a Project Labor Agreement as a condition of winning a job can be a perilous exercise. It can result in significant financial losses or even going out of business if the public entity withholds payments to your company as the grievance is adjudicated.

For taxpayers, why do you vote for school board members who focus on requiring contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions? What do the grievance procedures of Project Labor Agreements have to do with educating students?

Keep in mind that the board of education of the San Diego Unified School District was authorized by voters in 2008 to borrow money for school construction by selling $2.1 billion in bonds to investors, who will make money on the interest. The school district has sold Capital Appreciation Bonds, which accrue a huge amount of compounded interest to be paid back as taxes by future generations of district residents. It now wants approval from voters in November 2012 to borrow another $2.8 billion from investors by selling bonds, to be paid back later with interest. Overhanging it all is the school board’s mandate that construction companies sign an agreement with unions as a condition of work.

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