Unions Get Greedy at the Port of Long Beach: $1.1 Billion of Monopoly Work Not Enough

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UPDATE: News Media Coverage of Board Meeting:

Port of Long Beach Discusses Using Union-Supported Labor Deals – Long Beach Press-Telegram – June 7, 2012

On June 7, 2012, the Board of Harbor Commissioners for the Port of Long Beach held a special study session to discuss Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) on specific projects and a proposed Project Labor Agreement that construction contractors would have to sign with unions for almost all future Port of Long Beach work.

Representatives of the Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council and two of the five Port commissioners are intent on requiring contractors to sign a standard PLA for all future Port work. The main presenter for the unions called for a PLA to apply to general projects costing $125,000 or more and specialty contracts costing $25,000 or more. This is the typical threshold sought by the Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council for PLA policies at local governments.

Non-union workers showed up for the meeting in force and outnumbered union representatives at the meeting. 



Douglas Thiessen, the Port’s Managing Director of Engineering, reported that the Port signed its first Project Labor Agreement in 2010 for the $123 million Middle Harbor Project Phase 1, Stage 1 (now 50% complete after about 18 months), with an additional PLA signed for the $52 million Stage 2 of this project (now 25% complete). The Port is also in negotiations (anticipated final meeting today) with the Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council for a PLA to cover six projects related to the North Middle Harbor Redevelopment project and a PLA expected in final form by July 2012 to cover three projects related to the Gerald Desmond Bridge: $30 million demolition of the old bridge, $40 million for work on a storm drain, and the $600 million erection of its replacement.

This means 11 projects under four PLAs at a total cost of about $1.1 billion.

Thiessen also reported that the cost of The Solis Group (a labor compliance contracting firm) administering the four Project Labor Agreements would run about $2.4-$2.9 million for the Port. According to a slide shown during the presentation, the Port is paying $371,659 on the Middle Harbor Project Phase 1, Stage 1; $307,565 on the Middle Harbor Project Phase 1, Stage 2; $781,033 for the North Middle Harbor Redevelopment Project; and $1-$1.5 million for the Gerlad Desmond Bridge project.

Thiessen also reported that the Federal Highway Administration and CalTrans are involved with the development of the Gerald Desmond Bridge PLA, and their particular concerns have resulted in a lot of back-and-forth discussions.

As a key point of their argument, the unions had Councilman Patrick O’Donnell express his support for the PLA and had staff for four other councilmembers and Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal read letters in support of a PLA for all future Port construction. It’s amazing how much these city council members know about obscure facets of construction management and labor relations! A bureaucrat for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the owner of a public relations firm also spoke in support.

The Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction (CFEC) made the formal presentation in opposition. Representatives of the Western Electrical Contractors Association (WECA) and Associated General Contractors (AGC) of California expressed their misgivings. A Helix Electric representative pointed out his company recently won a contract at the Port and should not be cut out of future projects with a PLA. I spoke on behalf of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC and the Dayton Public Policy Institute.

Port commissioners Rich Dines (president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Southern California District Council) and Doug Drummond announced their full support for PLAs. Port commisioners Susan E. Anderson Wise and Thomas Fields had some valid questions about how PLAs are implemented and their effects on small businesses. Commissioner Nick Sramek did not comment.

News Media Coverage:

Long Beach Harbor Commission Looking At ‘Port-Wide’ Project Labor Agreement – Long Beach Business Journal – May 22, 2012

Long Beach Harbor Commissioners to Examine Port Labor Agreements – Long Beach Press-Telegram – June 6, 2012

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