By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
Unions praise decision, taxpayer association pulls support
At its Nov. 17 meeting, the Grossmont Cuyamaca Community College District (GCCCD) board voted to approve a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for the $398 million Proposition V construction bond. The board authorized the PLA despite three big hurdles: a recall effort against one of its members; a threat from a local taxpayer association to pull its support for the bond measure; and a recommendation from the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC) to not pursue a PLA.
PLAs are contracts that set terms and conditions for labor. Supporters point to stable pay, absence of work stoppages due to strike, and local hiring as reasons why they should be adopted for large construction projects. Critics say they drive up costs and prevent non-union contractors from bidding on projects.
At the board meeting, union workers in support of the PLA and open-shop workers against it both packed the board chamber and the Cuyamaca College Student Center lobby, where the overflow watched the proceedings on a video monitor. The workers cheered and booed as speakers from both sides took to the podium during public comments before the vote.
Gwenn Miller, chair of the CBOC, said the CBOC met on Nov. 12 to decide a recommendation for or against the PLA. The CBOC made the recommendation at the request the GCCCD board who, at its Oct. 20 meeting, postponed a scheduled vote on the PLA in order to get feedback from the oversight committee. The CBOC voted against recommending a PLA by a vote of 7 to 1 with one abstention.
“We believe that a PLA, if implemented with Prop V, would discourage competitive bidding and increase cost on how the bond money is used and undermine the district’s efforts to maximize bond revenue and achieve cost savings,” she said. “Also, it is apparent that under a PLA, local non-union workers, especially apprentices, will not be treated equally compared to union workers which constitute a violation of the board’s prior bond resolution.”
Miller also said a report the CBOC reviewed showed no significant issues with previous bond projects without a PLA, such as those built with Proposition R money.
“Therefore, there is no substantial taxpayer interest that could reasonably require the district to establish a PLA for all the Prop V projects,” she said.
The CBOC also encouraged the board to be “open and transparent” on future bond measures and inform voters when the district is considering a PLA.
Ricardo Ochoa, a lawyer representing building trades unions, refuted the CBOC claim that union and non-union workers will not be treated equally under the PLA, citing a board resolution for Proposition V banning discrimination based on employment status, which the PLA is directed to follow.
“What you are being asked to do today, is to vote on a resolution that would keep the promise you made to the voters when they voted for Prop V,” he said.
Theresa Andrews, interim president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association (SDCTA), reminded the board that in 2012 it had come to the SDCTA for an endorsement of Prop V, promising it would promote “fair and open competition for all district construction projects.”
“How can it be fair and open competition when you force non-union contractors to pay union dues?” she said. “Your promise of fair and open competition was made not only to the San Diego Taxpayer Association but also to taxpayers in this district. Breaking the promise is going to taint the trust the taxpayers put in you.”
Andrews said research found PLAs increased labor and administrative costs and caused discrimination toward non-union bidders, especially among minority-owned businesses.
“The only positive the report found was the reduced risk of work stoppages, but this benefit is minimized due to the lack of union shops in the county,” she said.
Andrews told the board that if it moved ahead with the PLA, SDCTA would publicly revoke its support for Proposition V.
“Additionally… your decision will be factored into any type of support or non-support we give on future bond elections,” Andrews said.
Former SDCTA president Scott Barnett told the GCCCD board that he was skeptical of PLAs while at SDCTA, but that the “feeling was ideological.” He said he changed his mind while serving on the San Diego Unified School District board, where work projects with PLAs came in on time and under-budget.
“After seeing that result, I became confident that the facts are such that PLAs are good for the taxpayers,” he said, adding that he supported putting a PLA into Proposition Z in 2012, which voters passed.
Eric Lund, general manager of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, said that his organization won’t support the PLA because “promises were made” to not have one.
“There may be good merits of [PLAs], there may be bad merits, but the bottom line is, you made a promise,” he said.
After several more speakers, the board voted.
Mary Kay Rosinski voted in favor of the PLA, citing several examples of on-time and under-budget PLA projects in other school districts and the positive effect it will have on East County. “A PLA ensures that local tax dollars have the greatest impact on the local economy by creating quality jobs for local workers,” she said.
Greg Barr said he “strongly believes” in unions and spoke of the benefits he’s had over the years because of them.
“As educators, we are trying to educate our students into the value of what our views are and the value of taking a stand,” he said. “Therefore, I would like to say that I take a stand and I’m going to vote yes.”
Debbie Justeson said she was voting yes because of the many successful examples of large construction projects, like Petco Park and PacBell Park, that were built using a PLA.
Edwin Hiel abstained from voting. He said he had been the “target of some personal attacks” following the Oct. 20 board meeting where he was handed recall papers by anti-PLA advocates that want to vote him off the board.
“I’ve learned that representing Santee has a price,” he said.
“I recognize that the board passed a resolution that said there would be fair and open competition and those words generally mean no PLA,” said GCCCD Board President Bill Garrett. “There are, however, laws that have been established that do require fair and open competition even when you have a PLA.”
Garrett voiced concern over possible increases in administrative and labor costs associated with the PLA.
“That being said, however, because it has already been indicated that the vote is for the PLA, I am going to choose to abstain from the vote because of the vitriolic attacks that have been placed on this board,” he said.
Garrett denounced the politics surrounding the PLA issue and defended the other board members as “good people who vote their conscience,” before calling the vote in favor of adopting a PLA.
After the meeting, Andrews said she was “disappointed and frustrated” with the board’s decision.
“The SDCTA will vote to revoke its support of Prop V,” she said. “It’s symbolic but it has never happened in our 70 years. It puts a stain on [the GCCCD’s] record for breaking a promise.”
––Write to Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.