It’s CYA time for union leaders at the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council these days. Having just chased off Gaylord Entertainment and their $1 billion+ Chula Vista bay-front project, and the 6,500 construction jobs and 2,500-3,000 permanent hotel jobs that went with it, one is left to wonder how they ever hope to get themselves out from being blamed for this disaster.

Give them credit for trying. Their Orwellian talking points appear to be these: We saved Chula Vista and humanity itself from an out-of-state developer who wanted to bring all the workers from “out of state” and it’s Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox’s fault for not stopping them. Nice. While Congressman Bob Filner, and others who have an almost canine affection for doing the unions’ bidding, may buy these incoherent lies, the facts are quite different.

In November 2005, the Port Commission selected Gaylord from Nashville, Tennessee, to develop a bay-front project in Chula Vista.  Shortly thereafter union leaders with the San Diego Construction and Building Trades Council paid Gaylord a visit and made it clear that the unions wanted the hotel and convention center to be built under a union-only Project Labor Agreement (PLA), and the 2,500-3,000 permanent jobs that would be created when the project was completed, to be union jobs.

For months, Gaylord sat down with union leaders to try and work it out. Gaylord acquiesced to every union demand but one — that of union-only workers on the job. Last week, the unions threw out a counter-proposal that amounted to the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. They wanted the bidding for each package to consist of a minimum of three union contractors.

If three union contractors were not interested in bidding, Gaylord was to notify the unions at least 30 days in advance.  If the union could not come up with another union bidder, only then could Gaylord invite non-union bidders to compete on the package. In other words, this was still going to be a union-only project whether Gaylord and the people of Chula Vista liked it or not.

Union leader Tom Lemmon can claim all he wants that the unions were perfectly willing to engage an open bidding process including non-union shops, but the fact is that their demand for a minimum number of union bids would have amounted to an end-run around a fair and competitive process. Gaylord understood this, and so Gaylord packed its bags.  

Gaylord had already conceded to a number of union demands. Under Gaylord’s proposal, all non-union bidders would still be required to pay the union wages to each craft employee and provide benefits.  All contractors would be required to agree to Labor-Management Meetings, No Strike-No Lockout, the same hours of work and holidays as the local union agreements, the same safety provisions as the union agreements, and the same working conditions as the union agreements.

Gaylord’s proposal also ensured local preference in hiring. Lemmon wants the people of Chula Vista to believe that they just lost a billion-dollar project because the union’s proposal was the only way to protect local workers and to make sure they would be hired. But now none of the 8,500 construction and service-industry workers who would have been guaranteed jobs on this project is getting hired.

Gaylord is gone, and no one wins. Not Gaylord, not Chula Vista, not its bay front, not workers — including those who are union members — and not even the unions themselves. Nevertheless, if we’re searching for someone to blame for this fiasco, then there is only one thing to do: Look for the union label.


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