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Prop. A looks to ban PLAs; opponents believe it will cost San Diego state, federal funding

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City of San Diego residents on June 5 will decide on Proposition A, a ballot measure that seeks to prohibit the city from requiring project labor agreements -- or PLAs -- on city construction projects.

PLAs are collective bargaining agreements between a contractor and a labor organization that set terms and conditions of employment for a project. Unions favor PLAs because they aid union contractors in getting construction jobs and the agreements are written in a way so that there are no work stoppages. Labor unions such as the San Diego County Building and Construction Trade Council oppose Prop. A.

Nonunion contractors are in favor of Prop. A and against PLAs in general as they tend to be written by labor unions and force nonunion contractors to pay into union dues. Those who oppose PLAs say construction projects cost more with collective bargaining agreements in place.

The push for Prop. A is led by the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., San Diego chapter, a nonunion trade association that represents merit shop contractors. ABC San Diego helped write the measure and bring it to voters.

Scott Crosby, president and CEO of ABC San Diego, said he wants Prop. A to pass because it protects taxpayers.

"There is never a bad time to protect taxpayers," Crosby said. "(Prop. A) prevents future rogue (City) Councils that can be paid off by unions."

The San Diego Unified School District implemented a PLA in October 2009 for all SDUSD projects pertaining to Prop. S-funded work at or exceeding $1 million. Based on data received from SDUSD, 20 projects that fall under the school's collective bargaining agreement (called the Project Stabilization Agreement) have been awarded a contract; so far, just seven have come in over the estimated cost. The awarded amount for all 20 projects is $102.795 million, still below the total estimated cost of $108.121 million.

Tom Lemmon, business manager for the San Diego County Building and Construction Trade Council and one of the people leading the anti-Prop. A campaign, did not return calls by press time.

Former San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye also is leading the charge against Prop. A. She said the biggest problem with Prop. A is that it would cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars due to the passing of state Senate Bill 829, which prohibits state funding for city construction projects in a charter city that restricts its City Council from utilizing a PLA. The bill was signed into law in April and goes into effect Jan. 1, 2015.

"Proposition A is really bad for the public," Frye said. "There has never been a project labor agreement placed on a public project in the city of San Diego. Proposition A tries to solve a problem that doesn't exist."

Crosby said his group is concerned that future City Councils will give into union bosses and use project labor agreements, which discriminates against 86 percent of contractors who are reportedly nonunion.

California State Controller John Chiang has sent mailers to San Diego voters saying the city would no longer be eligible to receive state grants for local construction projects if Prop. A is passed.

San Diego received $158 million in state construction funding in 2011, according to the city's Office of the Independent Budget Analyst.

In October 2011, Senate Bill 922 was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown and went into effect in January that authorizes public entities to choose by majority vote whether to require contractors to enter into a project labor agreement for a specific project or projects awarded by that entity and whether to allocate funding to a specific project covered by such an agreement. PLAs remain banned in charter cities, like San Diego.

Prop. A does state that if a project is going to receive state or federal funding, then the ban on project labor agreements will be lifted on that particular project.

If Prop. A is passed, it would also require the city to post online all construction contracts awarded at $25,000 or more.

Crosby said Prop. A is about "transparency, because it mandates the city construction contracts be posted online in a searchable format for easy public access."

Frye said this concept has seeds of a good idea, but said it only covers construction contracts over $25,000 and doesn't include those contracts for consultants.

"The mayor's office has already made quite a bit of contracts available online," said Frye, adding that she would like to see the city place all of its contracts online.

Proposition A, which needs 50 percent plus one vote to pass on Tuesday, is opposed by the San Diego Democratic Party, the Greater San Diego Business Association and the Middle Class Taxpayers Association. It is supported by the Republican Party of San Diego County, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and San Diego County Taxpayers Association.

Similar measures like Proposition A have been passed in San Diego County. In June 2010, Chula Vista residents voted to ban PLAs on city funded construction projects. In November 2010, county voters banned PLAs on construction projects unless required by a state or federal law.

The city of Oceanside passed a similar measure that doesn't ban PLAs, but simply states it won't mandate a PLA on any construction improvement project.

"I don't even know why we have this," said Peter Weiss, Oceanside city manager. "We have never entered into a project labor agreement and I don't see the city doing so in the foreseeable future."

Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox said she doesn't really know how SB 829 will affect Chula Vista since it doesn't take effect until 2015, and added that to the best of her knowledge she hasn't received any word from the state saying Chula Vista will not receive funding for construction projects.

On Wednesday, Fitch Ratings said San Diego's credit rating could be hurt if Prop. A passes.

Crosby dismissed this, saying that Fitch didn't take into account that construction projects funded by state or federal funds cannot be banned from PLAs, under Section 1, Article 2 of the ballot measure.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission also warned the Yes on Proposition A Campaign that a television ad had violated disclaimer rules and that the time allotted for the "paid for" disclaimer was over the five-second limit.

"It was over by a tenth of a second," Crosby said. "We fixed it. I think the unions are complaining because they are losing in the polls."

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1 UserComments
Ronald Palmer 9:33pm June 4, 2012

sWorkers, organized or not, ARE the majority of taxpayers. These propositions are a battle by the wealthy 1%, including big developers, against these taxpayers to lower their wages by crushing the unions that brought American workers into the middle class. Propositions A and B are the usual Republican attempt to sabotage unions in order to lower wages. If this passes San Diego taxpayers could loose $158,000,000 in grants from the state. But the big developers would increase their profits by millions at taxpayers’ and workers’ expense. Proposition B is the same power play in another disguise. It is called pension reform, but the fake savings comes from an impossible promise to freeze workers income for the next 5 years. The “reform” actually costs San Diego taxpayers millions to change to 401k's. This money was stolen from their pensions by previous mayors to fund Petco Park. The simple solution is to add a tiny tax to Petco Park tickets for the next 10 years. Problem solved.