Opinion Columns & Blogs - INACTIVE

Community college trustees should reject ‘divisive’ project-labor agreements

One of the big-ticket items in SCCCD’s Measure C bond approved by voters is replacing the Math and Science Building at Fresno City College. The estimated cost is $50 million.
One of the big-ticket items in SCCCD’s Measure C bond approved by voters is replacing the Math and Science Building at Fresno City College. The estimated cost is $50 million. jwalker@fresnobee.com

On Friday, the State Center Community College District will hold a study session on project labor agreements.

The district’s board of trustees is being pressured by big labor special interests to sign a PLA on construction work set to take place under the district’s Measure C, a $485 million construction bond approved by voters last June. In doing so, the trustees are inviting into the district the most controversial and divisive issue facing the construction industry today.

PLAs force nonunion employers to be limited to using only three to six of their own employees on any given project. They force nonunion construction workers to pay union dues and pay into union health, welfare and benefit packages that they will more than likely never have access to due to union vesting requirements.

What this means for a construction worker is a reduction in net pay of over $13 per hour, or $26,000 annually. PLAs also explicitly exclude nonunion apprentices, who are enrolled in state and federally approved apprenticeship programs. Only “joint-labor management” (union) apprentices are allowed to work.

So if you are a young veteran who has just finished serving his or her country and you have enrolled in a nonunion apprenticeship program, under a PLA you wouldn’t be able to work on a project in your community, a project that you are paying for.

For these reasons and more, many nonunion businesses will not subject their employees and apprentices to these discriminatory and outrageous demands. They will simply not bid any job covered by a PLA. This is the reason why the most comprehensive study ever conducted on PLAs found they raise the costs of school construction projects by 13-15 percent.

The study was conducted by National University, and it looked at 550 school districts across California. In the end, and accounting for all other variables, the PLA ended up costing school districts that used them more money. That’s four schools for the price of five.

Is this backroom deal what taxpayers in the region voted for last year when they approved Measure C? Did they plan on having the purchasing power of every dollar they approved reduced by 15 percent? Is this in the best interest of the SCCCD students? Absolutely not.

If big labor special interests had been honest about their intentions to place a PLA on this work, you can rest assured it would have been much more difficult to pass Measure C, which is exactly why they waited until now to make their intentions public. Now that the bond has been approved by voters, unions are asking the trustees to engage in bait and switch. This is outrageous.

We’ve seen this before around California in the 18 years we have been fighting these wasteful agreements. PLA proponents, understanding PLAs have been banned in 23 states as well as 11 entities in California, do not want the controversy associated with them to cloud the voters’ minds before a bond is passed.

But as soon as it does pass, these special interests beat a path to elected officials’ doors asking for PLA, an agreement only they can negotiate with the college, even though unions represent, again, less than 15 percent of the local construction industry.

PLAs are despised by every construction trade group outside of the unions and for good reason. The National Black Chamber of Commerce calls them “defacto segregation” while the Women Construction Owners and Executives says PLAs “disproportionately impact small business, particularly those owned by women and minorities.”

The trustees have a simple way of dealing with the PLA that big-labor special interests are trying to sell them: Reject it in favor of fair and open competition. In this way, contractors, workers and apprentices can all be treated equally while taxpayer dollars are maximized. PLAs and the discrimination they represent have no place in Fresno or anywhere else in America in 2017.

Eric Christen is executive director of Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction.

If you go

What: State Center Community College District study session on project labor agreements

Date: Friday, March 17

Time: 2-4:30 p.m.

Place: Fresno City College, Old Administration Building, Room 251