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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, January 13, 2014, 6:34 pm

Sonoma County project labor agreements could have lower cost threshold

Proposed policy includes requirements for use of certain workers, approval of each agreement

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    SONOMA COUNTY — The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is expected to vote on whether to adopt project labor agreements for significant county construction projects — larger than $10 million for some and over $25 million for others — bringing back a contentious debate from late 2012 between organized labor and business interests and nonunion contractors.

    Sonoma County sealThe board is set to review a report prepared by an ad hoc committee that recommends PLAs for construction projects that meet certain criteria. As proposed, the policy would include all projects where the cost is budgeted at more than $25 million for federally funded projects or more than $10 million for state or locally funded projects, according to the report.

    Previous discussions proposed a threshold for all PLAs at $25 million, which has been the guideline for federal projects since 2009.

    The proposed PLA policy would also include a set of key agreements related to hiring practices for such projects, including use of “core workers” and requirements for pre-apprentice and technical workforce training programs for local workers. The policy would not permit “double payment of benefits, where contractors provide existing equivalent benefit plans,” and all trades and unions would be signatory to the PLA. That means there could only be one agreement per project.

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    Under the proposed policy, the board of supervisors would approve each project PLA for projects that qualify. Upon approval, the PLA would then become part of all bidding documents, and all bidding contractors would have to agree to be bound by rules set forth in the PLA, according to the report.

    Potential PLA projects include the planned county community corrections center, which is estimated to cost $68 million; comprehensive county facilities plan projects that could cost $25 million; and a new terminal at Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport that could cost $60 million.

    In September 2012, the board similarly weighed whether or not it should adopt PLAs but ultimately decided to at least temporarily hold off until further study was completed. At the time, proponents, among them trade unions such as AFL-CIO and the North Bay Labor Council, squared off with opponents, which included scores of contractors and the North Coast Builders Exchange, in hours of passionate debate.

    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.

    Opponents, meanwhile, argue that the policy and adoption of PLAs attempts to fix a problem that doesn’t exist in Sonoma County and would increase project costs.

    A majority vote is required from the board to adopt the policy. 

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