Today (July 8, 2014), the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement (disguised as a “Project Stabilization Agreement) with the Tri-Counties Building and Construction Trades Council for Phase II of construction of the county’s North Branch Jail and for the Sheriff’s Transition and Reentry (S.T.A.R.) Complex. These would be the first government-mandated Project Labor Agreements in Santa Barbara County.
Union leaders have tried since 2010 to convince the county’s elected board to require construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement as a condition of contract work. To address unsubstantiated union claims why the county must mandate Project Labor Agreements, the board has passed various measures to encourage local hire and ensure contractor compliance with labor laws. These new policies have not satisfied the unions, nor have they satisfied Supervisor Salud Carbajal, the primary champion on the board for the union agenda. Also jumping onto the quest for a Project Labor Agreement is Central Coast Alliance United for A Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), a leftist community activist organization.
On April 15, 2014, the board voted 5-0 to direct staff to develop a “framework” for negotiating a Project Labor Agreement on the jail project. In its report for the July 8 meeting, the staff warned the Board of Supervisors of potential negative impacts:
At times the use of these agreements has become controversial as the nonunion sectors of the construction industry has grown and as PSAs have been applied to relatively small projects. Critics argue that PSAs place nonunion contractors at a disadvantage in bidding on projects and raise overall project costs. The County of Santa Barbara has never constructed a project with a PSA. There are no guarantees that a PSA will either increase or decrease the cost of construction, nor that it will attract or detract local labor. The General Services Department has developed an Engineers Estimate to construct the Northern Branch Jail AB 900 Phase II Project (Attachment #1) that does not include the provisions required of a PSA…PSAs also require that all contractors working on a project adhere to a collective bargaining agreement; even nonunion contractors must operate under negotiated rules…Establishing a Project Stabilization Agreement will require discussion with various stakeholders and negotiation with the Tri-County Building and Construction Trades Council (TCBT).
Staff also listed numerous issues in Project Labor Agreements with the potential for dispute between the unions and the county.
At the July 8 meeting, Supervisor Salud Carbajal proposed a Project Labor Agreement mandate for contractors on the Sheriff’s Treatment and Re-entry (S.T.A.R.) complex as well as the Northern Branch Jail. Both projects are receiving significant state funding.
Only Supervisor Peter Adam opposed the Project Labor Agreement negotiations. He stated that the county should not be manipulating the employee relations of its construction contractors. Obviously, the other four elected supervisors do believe that governments should mandate their construction contractors to sign agreements with unions as a condition of work.
Material Provided by Staff to Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors:
Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.