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Project labor agreements, the hot-button issue that has divided San Diego Unified as it starts negotiating such an agreement on its new bond, are making national news. Late last week, President Barack Obama reversed an executive order by former President George W. Bush that blocked the use of project labor agreements on federal construction projects. Obama is encouraging their use instead:

[I]t is the policy of the Federal Government to encourage executive agencies to consider requiring the use of project labor agreements in connection with large-scale construction projects in order to promote economy and efficiency in Federal procurement.

Project labor agreements are negotiated between labor unions and an agency or company, and typically involve a tit-for-tat in which unions promise not to strike in exchange for guarantees on workplace conditions and hiring practices. Proponents say they can reduce costs, avoid work stoppages and help level the playing field for unionized companies while opponents argue that they reduce competition and raise costs by thinning the pool of bidders for projects.

Unsurprisingly, the announcement spurred a flurry of e-mails from supporters and opponents of the San Diego Unified agreement. The San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, which will negotiate the San Diego Unified agreement, praised the action in a press release:

“President Obama has again demonstrated his commitment to part ways with the economic misbehavior of George Bush and to advance the progress that unions have made in the construction workplace,” said Lorena Gonzalez, secretary-treasurer and CEO of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

“Project labor agreements have not only raised the standard of living for all construction workers in the United States, but they have also set very clear work and productivity standards that protect taxpayers. We are ecstatic about today’s news.”

Eric Christen, executive director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, was less impressed. He wrote in an e-mail: “The fact this came out on a Friday at 5:00pm EST shows Obama wishes to still pretend that is he ‘post partisan’ while still allowing him to satisfy his very partisan backers.”

You can also read a really funny — if a little off color — argument between parent blogger Paul Bowers and San Diego City Beat editor Dave Rolland about project labor agreements. (Check out the comments to see Rolland talking back. The two are friends.)

EMILY ALPERT

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