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Thursday, Aug. 2, 2007 | A recent attempt to revive the failed deal between Gaylord Entertainment and local construction unions appears dead, as labor leaders said the company’s latest overtures were dishonest.

They said they would no longer negotiate over the proposed bay-front resort’s development with the company. Labor leaders said the company’s newest proposal, which was transmitted to the San Diego County Building & Construction Trades Council on Monday, fell well short of the group’s demands.

“We’re done talking to Gaylord,” said Jennifer Badgley, an organizer with the local electricians union. “We’re ready to move forward with a developer who will respect the workers of Chula Vista and its people.”

The announcement immediately drew criticism from officials at the city of Chula Vista and in the business community, who had encouraged Gaylord and the unions to resume their negotiations after reaching a stalemate nearly a month ago.

“The bay front is not organized labor’s call. This is Chula Vista’s project and Chula Vista’s future,” Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox said. “We’ve been robbed, quite frankly, of the opportunity to work with a successful company because of unreasonable demands.”

The unions had been pushing for greater assurances that workers constructing the approximately $1 billion convention-and-hotel facility on the Chula Vista bay front would hail from the local community. Gaylord’s latest proposition would have given preference to local union contractors, but would not have limited the company from hiring outside San Diego County.

In a brief statement following the union’s announcement, the company stopped short of declaring its pursuits in Chula Vista dead, a departure from its hard-line tone in July, when it said that it had no further plans in the South Bay unless circumstances changed significantly.

Get Lost

  • The Issue: Recent efforts to revive talks between Gaylord and local construction unions fizzled, as labor leaders shot down the company’s final proposal.
  • What It Means: The announcement appeared to squash a brief renaissance for the $1 billion project that was first declared dead at the beginning of July.
  • The Bigger Picture: Port and city officials said they will continue reviewing the larger bay-front redevelopment project before deciding what to do with the Gaylord site.

“While we are still trying to review the detailed statements made this morning by union leaders, we are naturally dismayed by the tone of their response to our proposal,” the statement said. “In the coming days, we plan to assess this matter and have discussions with the city of Chula Vista and the Port about next steps.”

While not an official requirement for the developer, negotiating a labor pact was seen as a necessity for a company that would have to navigate a complex political and regulatory landscape before building a 2,000-room hotel and 400,000-square-foot convention center on ecologically sensitive shoreline. By injecting itself into a legal discussion over the project’s environmental review and touting significant political influence with some of the agencies that would have to OK the development, organized labor was poised to play a pivotal role in Gaylord’s future in the South Bay.

On July 6, the company told the city and the Unified Port of San Diego that it was done pursuing the bay-front development because it couldn’t meet the union’s requirements. The company said that, without an agreement, the project was prone to a lawsuit by unions and environmentalists challenging the environmental review of Gaylord’s plans. Such a suit would have been expensive for Gaylord — adding attorney fees atop costs incurred from the bay-front development’s delay.

Since Gaylord’s announcement, port and city officials have held that they would push ahead with their redevelopment efforts on the bay front. They said they hope to finalize the state-required environmental impact report for the entire 550-acre waterfront redevelopment area and seek the California Coastal Commission’s approval in the next six months.

“We’re not going to stop,” said Mike Najera, Chula Vista’s delegate to the five-city Port Commission. “We’re not going to allow the whole project stay stagnant.”

A decision over whether a new developer would be sought won’t be made for several months, port spokeswoman Irene McCormack said.

But officials at the agencies and within the South Bay business community said they believed Gaylord and the unions could mend their relationship. Company executives met with national labor leaders, including AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. The meeting spurred Gaylord to send another proposal, what it deemed its final offer, to the building unions this week.

The proposal included a provision that would provide local, union-affiliated subcontractors first priority for a job on the project. If five union contractors submitted bids Gaylord deemed qualified, no non-union companies would have been considered. However, only Gaylord could determine which entities were “qualified,” a stipulation the unions found too subjective. Non-union shops would be able to bid on a job if five qualified union contractors were not found.

But labor leaders lamented that Gaylord was not embracing a deal they said was forged back in January. Under that deal, which company officials never confirmed existed, all workers on the project would have to be selected through a union hiring hall, Badgley said. That requirement didn’t force the company to hire only union workers, but it did give local workers a leg up on employees from outside the area when it came time for a contractor to select its labor force, Badgley said.

“It’s not so important to us where the contractor comes from,” she said. “Our concern is where the workers come from.”

Badgley and Tom Lemmon, business manager for the council of building trades unions, blamed groups representing non-union contractors for meddling in the negotiations and breaking off the January deal.

They also tried to deflect the blame being lobbed by Gaylord, Cox and business leaders by implying that the city and port were resisting requests by the company to increase its $308 million public subsidy.

Jerry Butkiewicz, secretary-treasurer of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, estimated that the company was trying to seek up to $100 million more for its project from the two agencies, which had to extend their negotiations after failing to reach agreement by May. Cox and Najera said the company did not seek more money from the city or the port.

Please contact Evan McLaughlin directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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