The following editorial ran in the San Diego Union Tribune last week, and is a terrific rundown on the benefits of Project Labor Agreements at work here in California communities. It is co-authored by Tom Lemmon, the business manager of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council AFL-CIO, and by Scott Barnett, former executive director of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and a member of the San Diego Unified School District board of trustees...
By Scott Barnett & Tom Lemmon
Saturday, January 28, 2012
“Just the facts ma’am.”
Detective Joe Friday, from TV’s “Dragnet”
The spirit of partnership between public agencies, qualified contractors, trained workers and the community is essential for responsible stewardship of scarce taxpayer dollars in construction projects. Project Labor Agreements (PLA) are simply a taxpayer protection tool for getting the job done on-time and on-budget. These agreements are commonly used in both public and private sectors. Companies such as Toyota, General Motors and even San Diego’s Petco Park have used PLAs to mitigate risks on complex construction projects when building their facilities.
Likewise, public agencies also regularly use PLAs as a way to protect taxpayers from risks stemming from project delays, hazardous working conditions, strikes and lockouts, cost overruns and poor quality of construction.
Most of the hyperbole surrounding PLAs is based on a misunderstanding of what the agreement is. Under newly adopted state law in California, any public sector PLA must have the following standard provisions:
• Both union and non-union contractors can bid on and be awarded contracts;
• Workers cannot be discriminated based on race, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, political affiliation or membership in a labor organization;
• Any work stoppages or disruptions on projects will be prohibited, with any dispute being resolved by a neutral arbitrator;
• Workers on hazardous jobs will be drug-use tested.
The San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) approved a PLA in 2009 for projects under Proposition S school construction bonds with ambitious goals to hire local workers, increasing access to new jobs for veterans, disadvantaged workers, and small businesses. After all, since San Diego’s taxpayers are paying for the bond, shouldn’t San Diego’s workers and businesses benefit?
The project labor agreement has generated great value for taxpayers, which is on display every single day on school work-sites throughout the district. An independent study commissioned by SDUSD has shown that the PLA has produced the benefits promised without impacting cost or quality of the construction. Here are some key facts:
• Local hire goals are on track. SDUSD set ambitious goals to hire local workers. So far these goals are on track. Nearly half of all workers live within the school district and 96 percent of workers live in San Diego County. In 2011 workers from low-income economically disadvantaged SDUSD ZIP codes represented 41 percent of all workers, exceeding the aggressive PLA goal of 35 percent.
• The PLA did not increase cost. The mean winning bid on the PLA projects is the same as the mean winning bid on the comparable non-PLA projects – both approximately $4.3 million.
• PLA projects are on average completing faster than non-PLA projects. Under the PLA, SDUSD is saving on average 51 days per project. Contractors rate their experience of working with the district as good, and two-thirds of the 400 contractors surveyed said that the time and effort in bidding on projects for the district was the same as that on any other district.
• Both union and non-union contractors awarded bids on level playing field: Of the $59.5 million in Prop S PLA projects awarded through this past summer, $41.5 million was awarded to non-union contractors and $17.9 million were awarded to union contractors.
In addition, newly enacted state law will save the SDUSD over $1.5 million in state labor compliance requirements due to the PLA. The Board of Trustees thus resolved to extend the PLA for the duration of Proposition S construction bonds and state funds.
The city of San Diego faces tough financial times that are similar to the SDUSD. Project labor agreements can provide significant benefits to taxpayers by insulating construction projects against uncertainties, promoting transparent competition, and ensuring a reliable supply of labor. Not every project is the same, nor is every project labor agreement. It is a tool that should be available to every public agency to tailor to the needs of community and taxpayers.
If something is not broken, do not try to fix it. The danger of passing the controversial ban on PLAs in the city of San Diego is that such a ban would jeopardize state funding for major construction projects. For this reason alone, there has never been stronger taxpayer reason to oppose the costly PLA ban in the city. Such unfair bans destroy the open spirit of partnership in public works, enriching contractor lobbyists at the expense of taxpayers.
Read the full text here.