Give returning military a fighting chance at home

Over the last few months, I’ve written at length about project labor agreements, or PLAs. These are agreements that governments and private companies often enter with firms bidding on work to set employee compensation rates, budgets and work time frames before projects begin.

Corporations such as Toyota have successfully employed PLAs in the construction of many of their U.S. manufacturing facilities. The city of Santa Clara elected to implement a PLA for the construction of its new stadium that will soon house the San Francisco 49ers and possibly the Oakland Raiders, and ground was broken just last month.

I’ve also recently written about a successful PLA used by the San Diego Unified School District that has resulted in numerous projects being awarded both to union and non-union contractors, nearly all of which have been completed in less time than projected and have come in on or under budget.

A valuable component of PLAs is the employment opportunities they provide to our returning servicemen and women. Under a PLA, contractors bidding for work can be induced to make certain commitments to the community, such as hiring local workers; providing apprenticeship opportunities for new workers to learn valuable skills on the job in a safe, supervised environment; and offering work specifically to recently discharged veterans of the armed forces.

Helmets to Hardhats is one of the programs that helps veterans nationwide transition into rewarding, stable careers in various construction industries. The organization has placed more than 6,000 veterans in apprenticeships and jobs since 2007, working with 26 different construction associations and trade unions to help veterans find work.

Veterans in Piping provides further opportunities for recently discharged service members. Operated by the United Association, a multi-trade organization with more than 347,000 members, Veterans in Piping also works to place those leaving the service in apprenticeships and careers where they’ll perform valuable work and be appropriately rewarded with solid pay and great benefits, including a pension program to ensure a secure retirement.

A third organization, Veterans in Construction Electrical, a partnership of the National Electrical Contractors Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, is yet another group working to help former military personnel transition to the civilian work force.

But without project labor agreements, there is no opportunity for civic leaders to demand job opportunities for veterans and receive commitments from their employment.

Despite these and numerous other benefits of PLAs, a small group of opponents has placed an initiative on the ballot that city of San Diego residents will vote on this June that would prohibit the city from even considering whether a PLA could provide benefits on any particular project.

Proposition A, the so-called “Fair and Open Competition in Construction” initiative, is in fact a blanket ban on the consideration of the use of a PLA for any city construction project.

In truth, banning PLAs does nothing to increase competition, as any contractor willing to abide by the terms set out in an agreement is welcome to bid on a project. In the example cited above concerning San Diego Unified School District, more than two-thirds of the contracts awarded went to non-union contractors. Because the state requires prevailing wages to be paid on all public works projects, any argument about a PLA ban reducing labor costs is effectively moot.

Worse, if Proposition A passes, it could immediately cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue from the state. California’s SB 829, signed into law last month by Gov. Jerry Brown, prohibits any city with a blanket PLA ban in place from receiving state funding on its construction projects.

Last year, San Diego recovered $158 million in construction funds from the state. Proposition A supporters are effectively asking citizens of the cash-strapped city to reject any state funding going forward by passing their measure.

For these and myriad other reasons that I’ve covered in other columns and will continue to touch upon as the vote nears, it’s imperative that San Diego voters realize this measure hurts veterans, hurts workers and hurts the city budget. Considering these facts, the only logical choice is to vote no on Proposition A.

Lemmon is the business manager of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO overseeing 23 trade union affiliates. For more information about the Building Trades Council, visit

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