UPDATE: the Governing Board for the Southwestern Community College District tabled the item. Next meeting is May 23.
Tonight (May 9, 2012), the Governing Board for the Southwestern Community College District in Chula Vista, California will vote on a resolution to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with unions in the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council. The plot is to require contractors to sign the Project Labor Agreement to work on certain projects funded by Proposition R, a $389 million bond measure approved by 71% of district voters in November 2008.
When Measure R was on the ballot, the district didn’t provide any indication to voters that it might require its contractors to give unions a monopoly on at least some of the construction with a Project Labor Agreement. (Voters would have rejected it if they known.)
I was one of many political observers to predict after Measure R passed that the unions would pursue a Project Labor Agreement at this college district. It’s a relatively costly bond-funded program, and the college district is located in a political battleground between free market advocates and unions. In June 2010, 54% of Chula Vista voters enacted a Fair and Open Competition ordinance (Proposition G) that prohibits the City of Chula Vista from entering into contracts that require contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions.
A candidate supported by Associated Builders and Contractors (Jaime Mercado) lost to a union-backed candidate in the November 2010 governing board elections, giving the unions majority control of the board. Sure enough, on June 1, 2011 the governing board scheduled a discussion about mandating a Project Labor Agreement for Proposition R. (Mercado had been elected to the Sweetwater Union High School District board in 2004 but lost re-election in 2008. He had refused to participate in alleged rampant pay-to-play contracting practices at the district.)
When the San Diego Union-Tribune reported on the proposed Project Labor Agreement in September 2011, it appeared the deal was done:
Southwestern College Considering Labor Pact for Future Bond Construction – San Diego Union-Tribune – September 8, 2011
Here is a press release from the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction about the vote tonight at the Southwestern Community College District:
May 9, 2012
Contact: Eric Christen
Southwestern Community College to Take Up Union Proposed Project Labor Agreement at Trustee Meeting Tonight
PLA Being Considered Despite Disastrous Results at San Diego Unified, New Study that Shows Huge Cost Increases Associated with PLAs, and the Fact that Citizens in the District Have TWICE Voted Against PLAs
Chula Vista – The Southwestern Community College Board of Trustees will be considering tonight a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for the remaining funds from the $385 million Prop. R construction bond passed by voters in 2008. For more than two years the district has successfully been building projects under Prop R making it appear a PLA is a solution in search of a problem. In fact only one other educational entity in the Region, out of forty-eight, has ever agreed to a PLA and that is the infamous San Diego Unified School District that, besides standing on the threshold of insolvency, has also witnessed a 20% increase in costs and 40% reduction in bidders due to their PLA.
“PLAs are of course a political decision, not a rational or even economic decision, which is why we are here.” said Eric Christen, Executive Director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction. “Following the last board election that saw two union funded candidates win seats on the board of trustees it was only a matter of time before payback was rendered to union bosses in the form of a PLA.”
The school has spent almost a year researching the issue thanks to the leadership of former Board President Tim Nader who, though a union ally, has taken this issue seriously and understands the potential to reduce competition and increase costs similar to what SDUSD has experienced. At the meeting tonight the Trustees will vote on whether or not to enter into “negotiations” with the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council. The meeting begins at 7:00pm in the College’s Board Room (214) located at 900 Otay Lakes Road, Chula Vista, CA 91910. Click here for the agenda.
This issue is not new to area residents who now twice have voted to ban PLAs on publicly funded projects. First they voted 56% to 44% to ban them in the City of Chula Vista in June of 2010. Then in November of 2010 area voters helped pass a County ban on PLAs 76% to 24%. “The people of the region and the City of Chula Vista get this issue and they have said no to the discrimination and waste of tax dollars that PLAs represent.” added Christen. “Will a majority of the Board listen to them or listen to Big Labor special interests?”
This issue is also taking place at a time when the voters of the City of San Diego will be considering Prop A in the June election. There voters once again will be asked to ban PLAs on all San Diego funded projects. Polls show Prop A with a large lead that will not likely be overcome.
PLAs are the most divisive issue in the California construction industry. By forcing workers to pay union dues, pay into union pension plans, and be hired through a union hiring hall PLA opponents claim that they make it very hard for non-union firms and workers to compete for work they are paying for with their tax dollars. Of the County’s 48 school districts (from K-12 through higher education) only one, SDUSD, has ever used a PLA.