Allowing all contractors to bid will ensure competition, avoid excessive cost
By Nicole Goehring
Project labor agreements (PLAs) have never been used on Sonoma County public projects. In fact, on Sept. 18, 2012, the county board of supervisors considered a similar policy that was never enacted. The county subsequently awarded a $22.7 million contract for the Sonoma County Airport Runway project without a PLA.
On Jan. 14, after more than three hours of public comment, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors backed a proposed policy for PLAs on public construction projects of more than $10 million that will decrease local opportunities for 84 percent of construction workers. While some would have you believe PLAs are a good thing, research and experience shows they result in reduced competition and increased costs.
In a 2010 study, the non-partisan National University System Institute for Policy Research found California school project costs increase 13 percent to 15 percent when PLAs are required. Who footed the bill? The taxpayers.
We can accurately assess if a PLA reduces competition and increases costs in real time by using an alternate bid approach. With an alternate bid provision, the county puts a construction project out to bid with and without a PLA to determine which bids are more cost effective.
Sonoma County Supervisors David Rabbit and Efren Carrillo set up an ad hoc committee to help draft a PLA policy that maximizes benefit, control and flexibility for the county. The committee strongly recommended the inclusion of an alternate bid provision and even offered to give the PLA bids a 2 percent advantage.
Regrettably, the supervisors rejected this approach.
An alternate bid provision would have encouraged some nonunion general contractors and subcontractors to bid on Sonoma County public projects, thus increasing competition and perhaps reducing the cost of the project for taxpayers. It also would have provided a more inviting environment for small businesses in the area — including minority and women-owned businesses — to bid on Sonoma County public projects, potentially increasing opportunities for all workers in Sonoma County regardless of labor affiliation.
Many thanks to the Sonoma County ad hoc committee for their forward thinking efforts and push for an alternate bid approach.
The Sonoma County supervisors will have a chance on Tuesday, Jan. 28, to once again consider the alternate bid approach when the final draft PLA comes before them.
Nicole Goehring is the government affairs director for the Northern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, a nonprofit construction trade association that believes in increasing opportunities for all workers regardless of labor affiliation.
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