Comments Criticizing Draft Environmental Impact Report for San Diego Convention Center Expansion Phase III Include Analysis of Proposed Project Labor Agreement

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A group called Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow (ACT) announced today (June 29, 2012) that it has “submitted 20 pages with 22 comments noting deficiencies in the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the proposed San Diego Convention Center Phase III Expansion and the proposed adjacent high-rise addition to the San Diego Hilton Bayfront Hotel.”

The California Energy Commission has approved the Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow as an intervenor in the licensing process for several large power plants. ACT has also submitted comments about the draft EIR for the Chula Vista Bayfront Master Plan and comments about the draft EIR for the Sutter Elk Grove Master Plan.

The latest submission from the Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow is to the Unified Port of San Diego, which is designated as the “lead agency” for this $520 million project. See a copy of ACT’s comments here. Below is a photo of the ACT submission at the Port of San Diego headquarters:

The comments submitted by Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow include a section about the proposed Project Labor Agreement for the San Diego Convention Center Expansion Phase III.

Rumors about a Project Labor Agreement for this project have circulated for a couple of years. See “It’s Out in the Open: Project Labor Agreement a Costly Possibility for San Diego Convention Center Expansion” – – March 11, 2011; “Contractors Opposed to Union Labor Mandate on Convention Center Expansion” – San Diego Union-Tribune – February 22, 2011; A PLA for the Convention Center?San Diego Union-Tribune (editorial) – May 27, 2011; “Three Takeaways from the Convention Center Vote” – Voice of San Diego – May 7, 2012.

Here’s the section of the Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow comments that addresses the proposed Project Labor Agreement:

The Report Ignores the Environmental Impact of Commuting Vehicles of Out-of-Area Construction Workers, Especially Those Dispatched from Labor Union Hiring Halls with Large Geographical Jurisdictions

The news media has reported that the governing boards of one of the multiple public agencies entangled in the Project (the City of San Diego, the San Diego Unified Port District, or the San Diego Convention Center Corporation) may require the construction manager/construction-manager-at-risk/design-build contractor to require construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement with affiliates of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council in order to work on the Project.

Under a Project Labor Agreement, all construction companies are required to obtain their workers from a worker dispatching program of applicable trade union hiring halls. (This is in contrast to the employment practices of non-union contractors, which use employment applications to develop a permanent in-house workforce.)

As a result, construction trade workers in unions with a large geographical jurisdiction that includes San Diego may travel hundreds of miles to work on the Project. This is confirmed in the opening brief submitted to the California Supreme Court by the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California in State Building and Construction Trades Council v. City of Vista. This brief 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.” This happens because construction trade unions have geographical jurisdictions that often encompass large regions and because they use a “traveler” classification so out-of-area union workers have access to jobs.

In addition, Project Labor Agreements cannot guarantee the employment of “local” residents on a Project – they can only set local hiring as a goal. And the definition of “local” can vary widely – in many cases, unions and union agreements consider “local” to be anyone dispatched from the union hiring hall that applies to the large geographic region that includes the project in question.

In order to account for the effects on greenhouse gas emissions of possible long-distance commuting of unionized construction workers from Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino to downtown San Diego, the Draft EIR needs to assess the geographical regions of each trade union with jurisdiction over elements of Project construction work and define the hiring and dispatching procedures of each of those unions.

Also, the Draft EIR needs to identify the likely non-union general contractors and subcontractors based in the San Diego region that have the capability to perform work on this Project and have plans to bid on the Project (if they are not required to sign a Project Labor Agreement), in order to determine the comparative effects on greenhouse gas emissions of the commuting vehicles of the employees of these local employees.

Finally, the Draft EIR needs to determine what percentage of construction trade workers in the San Diego region are union members. The Current Population Survey statistics on the California construction labor market (published by a joint collaboration of the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics) indicates that in California in 2011, 16.9% of construction workers were union members. (This figure includes the San Francisco Bay Area, which has a relatively high percentage of union workers.) Consider this statistic with observations from various construction trade associations in the region, and clearly non-union workers overwhelmingly dominate the San Diego construction labor market. Under a Project Labor Agreement, unions would need to obtain workers from outside of the San Diego region.

According to the announcement from the Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow, “This convention center expansion is rolling down the hill and picking up speed while the public is confused about what’s going on…The Draft Environmental Impact Report doesn’t make the situation any better for citizens of the City of San Diego…The Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow will ensure that the public is fully informed about the environmental implications of this convention center expansion.”

The announcement also notes that comments submitted by the Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow include the following criticisms:

  1. The report clumsily combines two projects into one, thus confusing the public.
  2. The report neglects to inform the public of how the many public and private entities involved with the projects are responsible for the environmental mitigation.
  3. The report justifies the projects to the public with propaganda and without any consideration of the legitimate arguments to not build the project (and thus spare the environment from new damage.)
  4. The report fails to address the public’s concern about blocked views from other properties – views that have a measurable market value.
  5. The report fails to address the public’s concern about litter thrown in the harbor.
  6. The report fails to inform the public of how a union-only Project Labor Agreement would encourage out-of-area workers to commute to the construction sites each day.
  7. The report neglects to inform the public about the details of 45,000 square feet of retail space planned for the project.

Public discussion about expanding the San Diego Convention Center began in 2008, and in January 2009, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders formed the Mayor’s Citizen Task Force on the San Diego Convention Center Project “to evaluate and recommend the necessary steps required to ensure San Diego’s ability to retain and enhance its current market position in the convention and meeting industry.” Considering the vested interests appointed to this Task Force, no one was surprised when the Task Force voted 15-1 to recommend expanding the convention center, with only Lani Lutar – head of the San Diego County Taxpayers Associationvoting NO because of uncertainty about the source of funding for the expansion. Of interest is that one of the Task Force members was Lorena Gonzalez, head of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Central Labor Council.

Articles: Traditional Newspapers

Convention Center EIR Cites Numerous Impacts – San Diego Union-Tribune – July 3, 2012

Port Preparing Final Convention Center Environmental Impact Report – San Diego Daily Transcript – July 3, 2012 (mentions the Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow submitted comments)

Concerns Expressed on Center Expansion: Report Brings Up Aesthetics, Noise, Air Quality, Traffic – San Diego Union-Tribune – July 6, 2012

Related Harassment from the San Diego-Imperial Counties Central Labor Council

Labor Says ‘Living Wage’ Threatened at Convention Center – San Diego Union-Tribune – July 5, 2012


One comment

  1. amanaplanacanalpanama says:

    It’s about time that there was a serious and organized response to union “Greenmail”. The tactic of holding up important energy and entertainment projects with scurrilous and usually phony environmental concerns while local unions move in to negotiate a PLA must come to an end. Kudos to ACT (and Eric Christen whom I recognize in the photo).