Sonoma County Will Get Its First Government-Mandated Project Labor Agreement: County Projects Over $10 Million

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After hearing public comments from 71 speakers and spending hours deliberating on technical aspects of Project Labor Agreement provisions, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors agreed on January 14, 2014 to vote at their next meeting (January 28) on their own version of a policy to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions for projects with construction costs over $10 million.

It’s the first government-mandated Project Labor Agreement in Sonoma County. Board chairman David Rabbitt said that the number of comment cards submitted at the meeting for the agenda item (90 total) was a record.

Back of T-shirts worn by union activists at Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting.

Back of T-shirts worn by union activists at Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting.

Union officials have been lobbying the Board of Supervisors for a Project Labor Agreement for two years. In September 2012, the board considered a policy but did not enact it because a 3-2 majority did not support it.

In the November 2012 election, retiring Supervisor Valerie Brown (who opposed a Project Labor Agreement) was replaced by Susan Gorin, a Santa Rosa City Councilmember who supports Project Labor Agreements. Unions backed her campaign. Gorin defeated Santa Rosa City Councilmember John Sawyer, who opposed Project Labor Agreements, 24,033 votes to 22,251 votes (51.8% to 47.9%). The Project Labor Agreement was then inevitable.

An ad-hoc committee was formed in 2013 to develop a Project Labor Agreement that could win consensus from the Board of Supervisors. After the final version was produced, a business coalition opposed to the Project Labor Agreement proposed their changes, and building trade unions proposed their changes. At the January 14 meeting, the board spent hours compromising and agreeing on various disputed provisions.

In more than 16 years fighting Project Labor Agreements in California, it was the first time I saw elected officials take their jobs seriously to create their own agreement, rather than simply approving a boilerplate model from the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO with a few variations negotiated by staff and union officials. Supervisors emphasized that the policy was for the county, not for special interest groups.

Nevertheless, the adoption of this policy gives unions a foothold to eventually expand it to almost all county construction, provided a solid union-backed majority continues to control the board. For example, Solano County adopted a Project Labor Agreement policy with a threshold of $10 million, but Supervisors approved special exceptions in which contractors were required to sign a Project Labor Agreement, even for a $957,000 project (321 Tuolumne remodel at the county’s Vallejo campus). In addition, the Santa Rosa City Council and the Santa Rosa Junior College board of trustees have voted in the past not to use Project Labor Agreements, and surely unions will again target these local governments. They now have a precedent in Sonoma County.

Eric Christen of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction speaks to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors against the proposed Project Labor Agreement policy.

Eric Christen of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction speaks to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors against the proposed Project Labor Agreement policy.

Background

January 14, 2014 Sonoma County Board of Supervisors – Agenda and Staff Report

Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Ad-Hoc Committee Report and Project Labor Agreement

Sonoma County Past and Future Major Construction Projects

Sonoma-Mendocino-Lake Counties Building & Construction Trades Council Proposed Changes

The Coalition Against Sonoma County Project Labor Agreements Proposed Changes

Comparison of Three Versions of Project Labor Agreements

Sonoma County Taxpayers Association Opposes Project Labor Agreement

Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction Demands Environmental Impact Report for Proposed Policy Giving Unions Monopoly on County of Sonoma Construction Contracts

News Coverage

Push for Worker Benefits on Sonoma County Projects Returns – Santa Rosa Press-Democrat – January 12, 2014

Sonoma County Project Labor Agreements Could Have Lower Cost Threshold – North Bay Business Journal – January 13, 2014

Bringing Blunt Force to Public Works Contracts – editorial – Santa Rosa Press-Democrat – January 14, 2014

Sonoma County Supervisors Appear to Back Project Labor Agreements – North Bay Business Journal – January 14, 2014

County Supervisors Signal Support for Project Labor AgreementsSanta Rosa Press-Democrat – January 15, 2014

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