North Bay Business Journal

Tuesday, September 18, 2012, 9:01 pm

Sonoma Co. supervisors want more study on project labor agreements

Board to revisit PLAs soon, before airport construction begins


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    SANTA ROSA — The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday evening agreed to temporarily table talks on a hotly debated proposed countywide project labor agreement policy for public projects of more than $25 million, sending the matter back to county staff for further study.

    Do you think Sonoma County needs project labor agreements on public works projects?

    • Yes (58%, 2,025 votes)
    • No (42%, 1,459 votes)
    • Don't know (0%, 17 votes)

    Total voters: 3,501
    Polling period: September 19, 2012 @ 12:05 am – September 25, 2012 @ 11:59 pm

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    After nearly five hours of passionate arguments for and against the proposal — with labor unions voicing support, and contractors and business leaders opposing — a divided board asked County Administrator Veronica Ferguson for more specifics on an array of unanswered questions from Supervisors David Rabbitt and Valerie Brown. 

    As proposed, the policy would recommend that the county adopt PLAs for public projects of $25 million more. The board said it would hold another hearing on the matter as soon as possible, given that the Sonoma County Airport expansion project — the prime target of a PLA, at least for now — is nearing the construction phase. The initial phase of that project will cost about $53 million.

    The goal of such agreements, according to proponents, is to provide a pool of highly trained and skilled workers on each segment of construction, thus ensuring on-budget, on-time completion. The proposed Sonoma County policy also would include apprenticeship programs for residents and veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Opponents argue that PLAs drive up costs because the requirements often discourage nonunion contractors and subcontractors from bidding, leading to higher bids overall because of the lack of competition. Opponents also contend that the work rules increase labor costs, which are then passed onto the developer of the project.

    Supervisors Brown, of the First District, and Rabbitt, of the Second District, both expressed serious reservations over adopting any policy that essentially mandated the use of PLAs.

    Supervisors Shirlee Zane, of the Third District, and Mike McGuire, of the Fourth District, which includes the airport project, both supported PLAs.

    Fifth District Supervisor Efren Carrillo remained relatively neutral, expressing support for some provisions while reluctant on others.

    The board said it would consider adopting a PLA specifically for the airport project and asked county staff to draw up a proposal that would address concerns of the board. Any given county can enter into a PLA and does not need a specific policy requiring them, as the Sonoma County Counsel’s Office told the board.

    The board may also consider to opt for a “double process,” similar to what was used for reviewing the Sutter Health new hospital, now under construction north of Santa Rosa. Approval of the policy would be a two-part decision that would have to clear certain hurdles before a final vote could take place.

    Project labor agreements are a prehire agreement that essentially governs work rules, pay rates, benefits and dispute-resolution processes. Terms and conditions are typically set by the agreement and apply to every contractor and subcontractor involved on a given project.

    Supervisors Brown and Rabbitt both said the proposal, as it stands, is too vague and expressed concern on construction costs. Both echoed opponents’ views over how health benefits and pension contributions would impact nonunion workers working on a PLA project. Nonunion contractors can still bid on on PLA projects, but opponents say it puts them at a competitive disadvantage and increases labor costs.

    Supervisor Brown said the policy was “too unstructured,” and that there was “too much open out there.” Specifically, the health benefits issue was a key concern.

    Supervisor Rabbitt echoed that concern. But he stressed that PLAs need to include the contractor in all aspects of negotiations.

    Supervisor Zane said dozens of PLAs are in place throughout California, with 73 percent of them with private developers.

    “This is good public policy that strengthens the middle class,” she said, pointing to the apprenticeship program as a key benefit.

    The $25 million threshold would prevent discrimination in the bidding process that opponents say PLAs would cause, according to Supervisor McGuire.

    “The threshold is really important,” he said

    In Sonoma County, opponents have said the policy fixes a problem that doesn’t exist, while proponents have said PLAs ensure fair labor practices and high-wage jobs for local workers. Those opposed to the policy also viewed the ruling as at least a temporary victory, saying the the language lacked specificity needed to allay concerns.

    “Entering into an agreement that’s not yet defined is not a good business practice,” said Sean Beehler, speaking on behalf of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce.

    North Coast Builders Exchange, a trade group representing builders and contractors, is vehemently opposed to the proposal. The North Bay Labor Council, an affiliate of AFL-CIO, and other unions have come out in support of the proposal.

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    1. September 20, 2012, 11:12 am

      by Ralph Miranda

      PLA for Sonoma County is a great idea.

    2. September 20, 2012, 12:44 pm

      by Kevin Whitesel

      PLA’s put workers rights into concideration, put Contractors on an even playing field, and are good for the local economy.

    3. September 20, 2012, 2:53 pm

      by Roger Fewkes

      My VOTE is YES. You can ask the San diego City School Board how it has benefited them. It keeps local hire and employees wages can’t be cheated.

    4. September 20, 2012, 2:54 pm

      by Ben Boyce

      The attack on PLAs is part of a larger agenda by the ownership class in the U.S. to destroy the union movement and rip up the social contract that created the American middle class. We will resist.

    5. September 20, 2012, 3:30 pm

      by steve martin

      Fully agree with Ben. Unions have given up too much already. It is time to stand for our and labors rights. PLA shall servive! This is to protect the middle class worker and the contactor involved. My vote is YES.

    6. September 20, 2012, 3:54 pm

      by Chris Snyder

      The PLAs actual open bidding to the non-union for large projects if a union genral contractor gets the bid. They are completly open and non-discriminatory. The US Supreme Court has found them to be a completely fair legal and effective management tool for public entities.

    7. September 20, 2012, 5:01 pm

      by Richard Markuson

      Sacramento County just completed their $1.2 BILLION Terminal B project WITHOUT a PLA – on time and on budget with a mix of union and open shop contractors, no work stoppages, lots of local subs and Sonoma need a PLA for a $25 million project? That is idiotic! The PLA movement has nothing to do with local hire, wages or benefits – it is to funnel union dues – required of all workers under a PLA – into union coffers to be controlled by union bosses. The policy proposed defined local as “dispatched by the local union” irrespective of where the worker lived. So a worker from SFO, Fresno, San Diego or Puerto Rico IS LOCAL according to the PLA. Give me a break!

    8. September 20, 2012, 5:43 pm

      by Jim Towers

      The only ones pressuring politicians to mandate PLAs are AFL-CIO union bosses because they insert language to guarantee that every worker pays union dues and union pension contributions whether or not they are in the union. So all the other excuses for PLAs are just that-excuses. Nice propaganda boys.

    9. September 20, 2012, 5:48 pm

      by Darryl Kirchner

      How can you discriminate against local construction workers who were born and raised in Sonoma County simply because they don’t belong to a union organization? There are countless apprentices born and raised in Sonoma County who are in State approved programs (Non-Union) that cannot work on projects with PLA’s. PLA’s are designed to strengthen the middle class and support local hire? How? There are just as many local Journeymen who went through these programs and work for non-union contractors who would also be discriminated against. The misconception that non-union contractors labeled as cheaters don’t go by the same rules as everyone else is ridiculous and ignorant. Our State has prevailing wage laws and apprentice mandates in place on ALL Public Works projects. How will PLA’s protect the other 85% of our local construction workers?

    10. September 20, 2012, 6:20 pm

      by John Loudon

      PLAs are used to force all workers to pay money to the union or they cannot work and they put union work rules on the non-union contractors. The result according to the San Diego school district study is that the PLA cut their bidding pool from 12 down to just over 6 per project and the costs per project increased.

    11. September 20, 2012, 6:25 pm

      by Eric carlsen

      Yes, on pla’s good for our community

    12. September 20, 2012, 6:41 pm

      by Ray Manley

      Project labor agreements guarantee qualified people working on your projects.

    13. September 20, 2012, 7:21 pm

      by Gerald J Frades

      The answer is Vote YES……….. For Project Agreements.

    14. September 20, 2012, 7:28 pm

      by Robert

      Vote yes

    15. September 20, 2012, 10:36 pm

      by Armando Go

      I vote YES!!!!!!

    16. September 21, 2012, 12:20 am

      by Richard Schaefer

      Project Labor Agreements support well trained workers and provide Middle class jobs for our community. Investment goes into our schools, our families, and local businesses. Vote yes for PLA agreements!!

    17. September 21, 2012, 3:22 pm

      by Melinda Hernandez

      YES YES YES!!!!!!!

    18. September 21, 2012, 5:48 pm

      by Charles madding

      I vote yes, it’s not discrimination againsed local workers. It’s a guarantee of quality work for the customer and a quality standard of living for the worker.

    19. September 23, 2012, 3:41 pm

      by tom clinite

      Quality work living wage for workers.

    20. September 24, 2012, 4:15 pm

      by Blackwater

      Ban all unions. It’s legalized organized crime and nothing more! Unions violate man’s basic human right, the right to work. The right to work without paying “tribute” to union thug bosses!

      Union dues do nothing but pay the thug bosses’ salaries and help fund corrupt politicians’ re-election bids. Unions are destructive and Un-American

    21. September 25, 2012, 3:21 pm

      by Saldaman

      PLA’s are great for the community, everyone in the area has the ability to work on these projects regardless if they are Union or not. They provide a safe environment to work with good wages and benefits which many of the workers on these projects wouldn’t have with out a PLA in place. It is a great way to keep contractors who would otherwise take advantage of the workers and violate State labor laws in place as well.

    22. September 25, 2012, 3:38 pm

      by hammerhead

      I would support a PLA which would give the workers in my community the abilty to earn a decent wage, provide healthcare for thier families, and even give the workers a chance to retire someday with dignity and respect.
      After all, isnt this the american dream? all of this in you own back yard, making money here, spending it here. this makes great economic sense to me.

    23. September 25, 2012, 4:07 pm

      by Koch Brothers

      Pay someone a livable wage-no way!!!!!!

    24. September 25, 2012, 5:14 pm

      by Roger Mason

      Yes! Unions provide good paying jobs with benefits. Members have a medical plan that does not require us to be on assistance from the taxpayers. Unions provide a skilled trained workforce who can get the job done right and completed on time. We live locally and our tax dollars and wages are spent supporting the local economy. There are no big union bosses the members are the union and we vote on all decissions made for the union. I support the PLA and hope you will too.

    25. September 26, 2012, 12:43 pm

      by Randy Dahm

      Yes I believe in PLA’s. They are two cold in my opinion. Skilled labor is harder and harder to regulate on construction and PLA’s play a large role in ensuring a quality project along with putting highly skilled and qualified men and women to work.

    26. September 27, 2012, 6:11 pm

      by lane morton

      YES,we need skilled union labor to do the job right the first time around.

    27. October 5, 2012, 11:52 pm

      by Steve Dabbs

      Yes to PLA, good for all in the long run.

    28. April 22, 2013, 9:16 pm

      by Dan Powers

      I vote YES to PLA’s. We need them to make skilled workers able to do skilled work so the project is done right. People who work union are able to live in those communities they build and contribute to the economhy as well as have quality lives.

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