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Through San Diego’s history, we see the values like fairness, partnership and community driving the growth of the region. This is the spirit that has sustained us, in our quest for water in the arid border region, in generating power out of our natural resources, and constructing our skyline of bridges and skyscrapers. These are the finest values that built San Diego.
However, very recently, the San Diego region has become a petri dish of vitriol by ideological extremists to subvert our values under the guise of “fair and open competition.” These measures are regulatory bans on project labor agreements (PLA) that unfairly prohibit a public agency from even considering a PLA, even if taxpayers derive efficiencies similar to the private sector. These bans have been proposed in the cities of San Diego, Escondido and El Cajon.
Now, few people know what a PLA is. Simply put, a PLA is a pre-hire contract that provides terms and conditions of employment on a construction project. By scheduling workforce needs, it is a tool to save precious taxpayer dollars, ensuring that a project is built on time, and on budget. PLAs are often a vehicle to reinvest in the community, by creating local jobs, apprenticeship training and enhanced safety during construction. PLAs also provide access to career pathways for war veterans in San Diego through programs such as “Helmets to Hardhats” and “Veterans in Pipefitting.” PLAs can thus be a win-win solution for the needs of taxpayers and the community.
In the private sector, PLAs have worked for Toyota, Honda, Disneyworld, and virtually every power plant recently constructed in California. Locally in the San Diego region, PLAs have been used to construct the Petco Park, 655 Broadway, Otay Energy Center, Palomar Energy Center and Olivenhain Dam. PLAs allow for the efficient and timely completion of projects by establishing common work rules, schedules, and dispute resolution processes for every trade working on complex projects.
Apologists for poorer performing training programs often cry wolf about the free market choice of public agencies to seek better partners. Novel claims on “discrimination” on San Diego Unified Schools PLA were soundly rejected by every single court, including the California Supreme Court last week. The California appeals court upheld the ability for taxpayers to get a better bang for their buck with superior quality in construction training:
“Importantly, the statutes expressly permit approved apprenticeship programs to provide education and training which exceed the minimum standards required by the department. Because the governing statutes expressly contemplate differences among apprenticeship programs, we reject AGC’s contention that the district invaded the department’s regulatory power by making an agreement which favors one qualified program over another.”
(Associated General Contractors of America, San Diego Chapter v. San Diego Unified School District, 4th Appellate District Division 1, No. D056530)
Courts have thus established that not only are PLAs fair and open, but that the public agency has every right as a free-market participant to shop for the best deal for taxpayers.
This week, Senate Pro-Tem Darrel Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez have proposed legislation (SB 922) that will further ensure that PLAs on public construction projects include taxpayer-protection provisions and will empower the governing boards of local entities to decide whether or not to use PLAs that include such provisions on their local projects. Contrary to false claims by opponents, the bill does not require or encourage any public agency to use PLAs on public projects.
The proposed legislation will ensure the following taxpayer protections for any PLAs on public works voluntarily adopted by local agencies:
• Permits both union and non-union contractors to be bid on and be awarded contracts;
• Prohibits discrimination of workers based on race, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or membership in a labor organization;
• Prohibits any work stoppages or disruptions on projects, with any dispute being resolved by a neutral arbitrator;
• Requires drug-use testing of workforce on hazardous jobs.
Under this bill, public agencies such as the County of San Diego cannot adopt bans against PLAs which include these taxpayer protections. Charter cities, such as Oceanside and Chula Vista, are not prohibited from adopting such bans, but will cease to receive state funding if the bans are not lifted by 2015.
In these tough budget times, it is only fair that public agencies in San Diego have all the tools available to them, as private developers do, to generate the best value for taxpayers in construction projects.
Tom Lemmon is the business manger of the San Diego Building & Construction Trades Council.