COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Letter to the Editor: Lemmon distorts information in column supporting PLAs

With his Aug. 15 commentary ("The truth about project labor agreements"), San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council business manager Tom Lemmon has departed this known time-space continuum.

He actually believes he can convince the San Diego business community to support the idea that local governments should require contractors to sign project labor agreements with his unions before working on taxpayer-funded construction projects.

As if contractors and their employees can’t make their own decisions and need the government to do it for them.

Lemmon writes his commentary even while knowing that 76 percent of San Diego County voters approved a ballot measure last November establishing a policy of fair and open competition on taxpayer-funded county projects.

Let me rebut only his most outrageous distortion, as there isn’t enough space in our normal spatial dimensions to answer the routine distortions that comprise the rest of his commentary.

Lemmon cites a study released last month by Associated Builders and Contractors — California Cooperation Committee showing that California schools built under a government-mandated project labor agreement average 13 to 15 percent higher in cost than schools built under fair and open competition. He inexplicably but triumphantly declares that the study left out the project labor agreement at the San Diego Unified School District.

Setting aside his fantasy that San Diego Unified School District is somehow saving money by cutting bid competition, Lemmon obviously didn’t read the study or comprehend the level of reliability and consistency of the raw data used for the study.

As stated on page six of the study (see www.thecostofPLAs.com), researchers evaluated data from schools built in California from 1996 through 2008. The project labor agreement at San Diego Unified School District was approved in July 2009, and the first project under the PLA had a bid deadline of Feb. 4, 2010.

Unlike Lemmon, the researchers for this study were forced to operate within time and space commonly experienced by the rest of us. It takes years to prepare a research paper worthy of publication in a credible academic journal.

It’s regrettable that the researchers were dimensionally incapable of considering the bid performance of that first project labor agreement fiasco at the San Diego Unified School District. The district received a measly five bids on Feb. 4 for the Hoover High School New Woodshop (Green) Building. (In January 2010, a similar project — the Auto Tech Careers Center Project at Miramar College for the San Diego Community College District — had 17 bidders on it.)

The low bid for the woodshop was $4.15 million, which the school district claimed was 35 percent over the engineer’s estimate. (In contrast, the low bid for that Auto Tech Careers Center Project came in at $2.2 million.)

These numbers are so obviously awful that they can even be understood in dimensions beyond our perception.

Anyone jumping ahead in linear time can see overwhelming support from the San Diego business community for the upcoming ballot measure to ensure fair and open competition for projects of the city of San Diego.

— Eric Christen

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

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