A project labor agreement involving the expansion of the San Diego Convention Center has raised the ire of a local construction organization.
“We will use any and all legal means available to us to see (this) PLA is made null and void,” said Eric Christen, executive director for the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction.
San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders announced last Thursday that an agreement had been made with unions to halt their opposition against the $520 million expansion of the Convention Center. Clark Construction and Hunt Construction also released a joint statement saying a project labor agreement had been signed.
Labor unions had been pursuing legal action to stop the expansion project for environmental reasons and because of the city’s financial plan to pay for most of the construction through a room tax approved by San Diego hoteliers, similar to a transient occupancy tax.
Christen said he thinks a backroom deal and environmental extortion was done so that the unions would not oppose the expansion project, which is a joint-venture between Clark and Hunt Construction.
Hunt Construction referred requests for comment to Alan Petrasek, senior vice president for Clark Construction. Petrasek did not return messages before press time.
Those opposed to PLAs say they unfairly discriminate non-union contractors since PLAs typically allow nonunion contractors to bid on projects, but have to pay into union health and pension plans even if these contractors already pay into medical and retirement funds.
Proponents of PLAs say this type of agreement ensures no work stoppages are made, workers are paid higher wages and local contractors are hired.
Christen also said that his group will legally fight so the expansion goes before a public vote.
“The tax increases that are associated with this project, going forward, should be put before the people for vote,” Christen said. “This is a tax increase, not something that can be negotiated in a backroom deal by a bunch of hoteliers.”
The San Diego City Council voted 7-1 Oct. 1 to expand the Convention Center partially through an increase in hotel taxes.
The financing plan still awaits a validation hearing in state court which is expected in 2013. Also the California Coastal Commission will need to sign off on the project, as well, before construction can begin.
The new hotel tax is expected to pay for the majority of the project’s annual debt service. The Port of San Diego is also slated to contribute $3 million per year in addition to the city’s $3.5 million annual payment from its general fund.