According to reports from people at the scene, the usual cast of characters made the usual arguments in conjunction with the Project Labor Agreement staff report at the December 11, 2012 meeting of the board of trustees of the West Valley-Mission Community College District (in the South Bay/Silicon Valley region of the Bay Area).
First the board of trustees received a report from the district’s Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services about Project Labor Agreements, as the board had requested at its November 13 meeting. At that same November 13 meeting, the board had also directed district staff to develop a Project Labor Agreement/Project Stabilization Agreement for projects funded by bond sales authorized by Measure C. The board gave staff discretion to negotiate that agreement as it saw fit for the benefit of the district and to bring the agreement to the board for consideration by March 2013 or the soonest practicable date.
At the December 11 meeting, the Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services asked the board to define its policy objective and warned that a Project Labor Agreement could increase costs with unknown benefit to the district. He noted that construction funded from earlier bond sales (authorized by voters in 2004 as Measure H) was done successfully without a Project Labor Agreement. He also indicated his intent to negotiate a “fair” Project Labor Agreement and pick two similar projects to compare for a pilot project – bidding one with a Project Labor Agreement requirement and one without it.
Clearly the board is split on the issue, with board member Adrienne Grey pushing for the Project Labor Agreement. She complained that the Vice Chancellor’s report was inadequate and tried to rebut the 2011 study on the cost of Project Labor Agreements on California school construction from the National University System Institute for Policy Research in San Diego.
The usual crowd spoke in support of the Project Labor Agreement:
- Josue Garcia, (former?) Deputy Executive Director of the Santa Clara & San Benito Building and Construction Trades Council, gave his routine presentation about how non-union contractors exploit workers. He told the board not to try to save money on the backs of workers. (At least he admits that Project Labor Agreements increase costs.)
- Charles Ramsey, board member of the West Contra Costa Unified School District, is back on tour again in support of Project Labor Agreements and cited his school district as an example of successful construction with these agreements.
- Louise Auerhahn, the author of the Working Partnerships USA “Economic Policy Brief” entitled Effect of Project Labor Agreements on Local Business Utilization in Santa Clara County, California, spoke to defend her report from my critical examination published by the California Construction Compliance Group: Sixteen Flaws in the October 2012 Working Partnerships USA Argument for Project Labor Agreements on Community College District Construction in Santa Clara County. Ms. Auerhahn complained that she learned about my analysis from a Google alert and I didn’t call her with questions. She also claimed I don’t believe in local business utilization. I expect Working Partnerships USA will issue a revised version of this report in 2013 to address my numerous valid criticisms.
- Laura Casas Frier, a board member for the Foothill-DeAnza Community College District, told the board she was the decisive swing vote for the Project Labor Agreement in her district. She had sleepless nights over how she would vote but is sure the district made the right choice.
- Neil Struthers, Executive Director of the Santa Clara & San Benito Building and Construction Trades Council, expressed his disappointment with the Vice Chancellor’s report and claimed there was too much emphasis on the National University study. He then listed the usual union talking points against Associated Builders and Contractors (my former employer).
Two among the group of contractors at the meeting to oppose the Project Labor Agreement dared to speak openly against it. Also speaking against the Project Labor Agreement were Eric Christen, Executive Director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, and Nicole Goehring, Government Affairs Director of the Northern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. Ms. Goehring refuted the Working Partnerships USA study, reviewed the recent dismal bid results under the new Project Labor Agreement at Contra Costa Community College District, and reported the latest contractor labor law violations at the San Mateo Union High School District, where contractors are required to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions.
“I have received voluminous, voluminous material on this topic,” Board President Nick Heimlich noted drily. But that didn’t deter several dozen people who had come out specifically to address the board on the subject from making their statements.