Sonoma County supervisors to consider project labor agreement

A battle is brewing between big business and labor in Sonoma County over the prospect of the Board of Supervisors possibly adopting a project labor agreement for public construction projects of over $25 million.

[caption id="attachment_61409" align="alignright" width="302"] The Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport expansion project is one that could be affected by these agreements. (photo credit: John Burgess, The Press Democrat, 2011)[/caption]

The board is set to hear arguments for and against the proposal of a project labor agreement on Tuesday, with impassioned arguments expected on each side of the issue.

The North Coast Builders Exchange, a trade group representing builders and contractors, has already come out as vehemently opposed to the proposal, saying such agreements drive up construction costs and discriminate against non-union contractors. 

"We've had a policy where we are adamantly opposed to project labor agreements on public works projects," said Keith Woods, chief executive officer of the Builders Exchange. "We have no doubt that these things are discriminatory, unfair and create an uneven playing field in the bidding process."

But Lisa Maldonado, executive director of the North Bay Labor Council, which is affiliated with AFL-CIO, disputes that notion, saying instead that such agreements help provide transparency, provides local workers with jobs and ensures that workers aren't exploited.

"There's quite a few benefits," she said. "One of the main benefits is local hires, ensuring local dollars go to local workers. Second is the issue of transparency. One of the problems we see in construction are folks bidding on the project and not paying their workforce enough in wages."[poll id="36"]

A project labor agreement is a pre-hire agreement that essentially governs work rules, pay rates 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.

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.

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