By John Loudon
Based on my experience in labor law compliance auditing, I believe your article ["Supervisors divided ..." p. 1, Sept. 24] on the proposed Sonoma County Project Labor Agreement contained a few points that warrant some clarification. Specifically, PLAs are inherently discriminatory against non-union workers and contractors, and increase cost to taxpayers, so proponents have a duty to prove offsetting benefits.
Rather than being about business versus worker, PLAs are always proposed by labor unions and the politicians they back with campaign cash. There is never a public or citizen study committee calling for them. The objective of every PLA is to make powerful union hiring halls the exclusive employment agencies providing workers for the job to the exclusion of the 86 percent of construction workers who choose not to join a union. They even try to exclude struggling student apprentices if they found acceptance in a school other than the “right” union-affiliated school. It is stunning to see them stand in public and make these demands with a straight face.
If there is ever any concession made for non-union workers in a PLA, it always mandates that all workers, even non-union members on a project have union dues and union pension payments taken out of their paychecks even when they are not vested in the pension.
Finally, both the most comprehensive study on the cost of PLAs, conducted by National University, and the Rea and Parker study by San Diego Unified School District show that PLAs cause the bidding pool to drop almost 50 percent and the costs to taxpayers to increase either up to 13 percent to 15 percent or in the tortured language of Rea and Parker, after the PSA (PLA) “Bids continue to be under budget, although somewhat less under budget for PSA projects than for non-‐PSA projects.” By discriminating against non-union workers, subjecting all workers to less outside scrutiny for abuse, and reducing the bidding pool, PLAs add costs, financial and moral. That’s why California voters have voted to outright ban PLAs the last five out of five times they had the opportunity.
Fair-minded Californians share our belief that sound labor laws should apply to all workers and companies equally. The issue for policy-makers should not be about union or non-union but about professional firms committed to following the laws versus unscrupulous firms trying to game the system. PLAs pervert the process pitting skilled California workers from quality companies against each other thus creating strife that is totally unnecessary.
Community leaders lead by the Sonoma County Supervisors have shown that they can actually govern best by governing less when they rejected efforts by special interests to change the law to favor one group over another. As we know, once politicians open the door of political favoritism it can be hard to close.
Attorney John Loudon (email@example.com) is executive director of the San Diego-based Associated Builders & Contractors of California Cooperation Committee, Inc. ABC-CCC is a non-profit organization that supports local government officials who want to deliver quality public works projects at the best price. The association represents contractors and focuses on prevailing wage and labor compliance issues, championing high standards of performance and accountability.
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