Are unions exemplifying amnesia or cowardice on Project Labor Agreements?
by Eric Christen
San Diego’s union bosses and their political allies have either contracted a case of highly contagious amnesia or they have simply become cowards when it comes to admitting they support Project Labor Agreements on taxpayer funded projects. This is something to behold.
The latest campaign message from opponents of Proposition A is that the City of San Diego doesn’t need a Fair and Open Competition law that protects construction workers from discrimination, taxpayers from being ripped off by greedy union bosses, and the transparency that comes with having all city contracts posted online.
Why not? Union bosses claim the San Diego City Council doesn’t plan to force contractors to sign a discriminatory and costly Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with unions to work on taxpayer-funded construction so therefore we don’t need Prop. A.
I was at the April 28, 2010, San Diego City Council meeting where Lorena Gonzalez, the head of the San Diego/Imperial Counties Central Labor Council, called for a PLA on all future city construction, including the Convention Center Expansion.
I have in my files a draft PLA that the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council gave to a company for the construction of the massive new civic center complex for the City of San Diego.
I have a letter that four San Diego City Council members signed to praise three board members of the almost-bankrupt San Diego Unified School District for requiring contractors to sign their disastrous PLA on future school construction.
With regard to the San Diego Unified School District debacle, I bet you didn’t know that the school board intended to give unions a monopoly on construction when you voted for the $2.1 billion Proposition S in November 2008, did you? Now of course that dysfunctional entity, which is nothing but a vassal state of the unions thanks to its corrupt and incompetent school board, has seen its construction costs rise and bidders decline thanks to the PLA. Can’t say we didn’t warn them.
Following that board’s craven capitulation to unions we decided we had had enough and that it was time to protect workers and taxpayers by taking such decisions out of the hands of elected officials and putting it into the hands of voters.
Proposition A will add basic worker protections and greater transparency into our City charter. We believe that the people know a good deal when they see one, like Prop. A. We also believe they know a rotten deal when they see it which is why City voters helped approve the ban on PLAs at the County level in 2010 by a 76-24% margin. You can’t get 76% of voters to agree on the weather but they get PLAs.
PLAs increase construction costs because they discriminate against workers by forcing them to pay union dues, pay into union pension plans (that are often on their way to insolvency), be hired through a union hiring hall, and explicitly discriminate against non-union apprenticeship programs. Who on earth could propose such a thing and worse, who would agree to it? Proponents of PLAs are today’s Big Labor leaders like local union boss Lorena Gonzalez whose worldview seems predicated on the proposition that if you are not union you are not worthy. They personify why unions have fallen so far in the opinions of Americans.
Yet when it comes to Prop. A they have gone into hiding, afraid to defend PLAs as the “construction management tools” they pretend that they are. Why do union bosses now refuse to defend PLAs in their mailers to citizens? Why do these previous zealots for PLAs now shrink from view when it comes time to defend them? Why? Because they know the public isn’t buying what they’re selling. So union bosses have slipped from sight replaced by politicians talking about how Prop. A will cost the city $500,000 a year because it will force the city to post all of its contracts online. Yes, that’s right. They claim it will cost San Diego $500,000 annually to scan and post contracts online, something my 11-year-old could do for nothing with an $80 scanner from Staples. While this may explain why our City is broke, it does not explain why voters should do anything other than vote yes on Prop. A
Go to www.fairandopencompetition.com to learn more and show your support today.
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Eric Christen is the executive director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction