Watsonville City Council Imposes Requirement for Construction Contractors to Sign Project Labor Agreement with Unions

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The City of Watsonville (in Santa Cruz County) has become the second city in Northern California (after Berkeley) and the sixth city in California to enact a blanket policy requiring its construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of work. On October 8, the Watsonville City Council voted 5-1 (with one absence) to impose the union-backed policy as an ordinance for all projects of $600,000 or more.

Councilwoman Trina Coffman-Gomez was the only vote against the Project Labor Agreement ordinance. Please thank Councilwoman Coffman-Gomez via this web site. (Councilwoman Nancy Bilicich, who voted against the ordinance in its first reading at the September 24 meeting, was absent from the October 8 meeting.)

The $600,000 project cost threshold for the policy was a compromise. Staff had proposed a threshold of $1 million for the policy, but union officials demanded a lower threshold of $250,000, as noted in a September 10, 2013 staff report to the city council:

The Santa Cruz and Monterey Building and Trades Council have recommended a project cost of $250,000 or more to initiate the use of PLA’s for City projects. The rationale is that with a smaller cost threshold, more projects would be included under the PLA program, which would lead to more union memberships and a stronger apprenticeship program.

After the policy was approved 5-1 (with one absence) in its first reading at the city council’s September 24 meeting, union officials provided the city council and staff with a draft Project Labor Agreement.

Construction unions have tried in the past to convince the Watsonville City Council to enact policies that discourage Merit Shop contractors from bidding on city contracts. At an October 8, 2002 meeting, the city council voted 5-2 for a union-backed discriminatory apprenticeship ordinance. In 2004, unions demanded but did not get a a Project Labor Agreement for the Watsonville Civic Center – a 186,000 square foot building for city offices, Santa Cruz County Superior Courts, a library, an Agricultural Workers History Museum, and private lease space. As leverage, the Carpenters Union Local No. 505 filed a petition with the California Department of Industrial Relations for a prevailing wage coverage determination on an adjacent parking garage already under construction.

The Watsonville City Council is reportedly dominated by a local political machine led by Democrat Assemblyman Luis Alejo, who used to serve on the city council. His wife is now Mayor pro Tempore. There are seven individual council districts in this city of about 50,000 people, and city council members tend to be elected with 1000 votes or less. In the November 2012 election, the candidates for four city council seats ran unopposed.

News Coverage

Watsonville Council: Projects Over $600,000 to Require Union AgreementSanta Cruz Sentinel – October 8, 2013

Council Approves Union-Friendly OrdinanceWatsonville Register-Pajaronian – October 9, 2013

Watsonville City Council: Want City Project Work? Pay Bribes – California Political News & Views (blog) – October 9, 2013

Watsonville Mulls Pro-Labor Public Works Ordinance – Santa Cruz Sentinel – October 1, 2013

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  1. […] This vote was a follow-up to a city council vote on October 8, 2013 to proceed with a Project Labor Agreement policy. (For details, see Watsonville City Council Imposes Requirement for Construction Contractors to Sign Project Labor Agre….) […]