Members of the Proposition S oversight committee weighed in on a proposed project labor agreement for the first time Wednesday when a subcommittee voted to ask San Diego Unified to bring a representative from the construction industry to the bargaining table, where it is hashing out the agreement with local builders unions.

Staffers from the school district had urged the committee and its subcommittees to stay out of the fray, arguing that it was nearly impossible to judge the impact of a nonexistent agreement, would politicize the oversight body and was outside its purview. The committee disagreed.

“We would not be true to ourselves as a governing body if we ducked the issue,” said committee member Gil Johnson.

The idea of including an industry representative in project labor agreement bargaining was proposed by school board member John de Beck and rejected by the majority of the school board in January, when it voted to start negotiating an agreement. Proponents of the agreement said that it was inappropriate to include contractors because they could tailor the agreement to their companies and had no natural role in negotiations between the school district — which have the bond work to bargain with — and the unions, which have the power to strike.

Bargaining is now proceeding behind closed doors between the Building and Construction Trades Council and the school board, which provided its proposed agreement to the unions on Wednesday. It is unclear what the terms of such an agreement might be, but they typically involve a tit-for-tat in which unions promise not to strike in exchange for guarantees on union benefits, hiring and other issues.

Supporters argue that they have no impact on costs, can prevent work stoppages and guarantee local hiring. Opponents claim they can drive up costs by thinning the pool of bidders. Both sides can martial studies to support their claims.

Members of the construction subcommittee voted unanimously to recommend to the school board that it include a construction industry representative, selected from a group of four eligible agencies chosen by the full oversight committee, to participate in the negotiations. But their vote was taken after two dissenting members of the subcommittee, Daniel Morales and Ray Moreno, had already left. Moreno is a business manager for a local construction union and Morales, community services liaison for the San Diego Housing Commission, complained earlier in the meeting about being deluged with “anti-union propaganda” from contractors.

The recommendation must be approved by the full oversight committee, which could prove less supportive of the push: The committee includes both members who are suspicious and supportive of project labor agreements, along with others who profess no opinion.


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