When the CEO of the area's Building and Construction Trades Council stood before the San Jose City Council last week to explain his challenge to a new downtown high-rise based on environmental law, he didn't even bother pretending that the project might foul the water or air. No, the first point Neil Struthers made was about the developer's choice of workers.

"Bringing in subcontractors who bring in lesser-skilled, lower-paid workers from Sacramento hurts all workers in the construction industry," Struthers said before launching into some flimsy environmental and procedural criticisms.

You don't expect to be captivated by a discussion about a labor agreement for a wastewater treatment project. But when you toss in a $42 million budget, with dozens of construction jobs on the line, the entertainment value is heightened.

That was the setting at last week's Pinole City Council meeting, where a crowd packed with union tradespeople -- carpenters, electricians, ironworkers and others -- filled the 126-seat council chamber.

No-kill proposal also brought before council

MARTINEZ, Calif. – Project Labor Agreements, the California Youth Energy Services Program, and the community-proposed implementation of a no-kill policy at Contra Costa Animal Services were all topics of discussion at the regular meeting of the Martinez City Council last week.

The council voted unanimously to adopt a policy regarding the use of Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) on city construction projects. After a failed vote on establishing a $500,000 threshold, the council unanimously set the project threshold at $250,000.

MARTINEZ -- Martinez became the first Contra Costa County city to adopt a project labor agreement for capital improvement jobs, just in time for its multimillion dollar Waterfront Park project.

"You are setting the gold standard for citywide project labor agreements," said Greg Ferre, Contra Costa Central Building and Construction Trades Council financial officer, at the Nov. 19 City Council meeting.

FAIRFIELD — Three local companies are among 29 that didn't bid on the Intermodal Station Project because of the project labor agreement, says an opponent of such pacts who will make a California Public Records Act request to Fairfield for documents from contractors, trade unions and city staff involving the transit development.

Eric Christen, executive director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, told the Solano Republican Women Federated meeting Monday about the companies and later spoke about the records act request he said he'll submit Tuesday to the city.

The Fairfield city staff said the labor agreement would not significantly impact project costs because it was likely most contractors will be union affiliates.

FAIRFIELD — A critic of a project labor agreement passed unanimously by the Fairfield City Council says "those who voted for this backroom deal, especially any council member registered as a Republican, will be held accountable to the taxpayers."

"I'm not going to let this bone go," said Eric Christen, executive director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction.

He also said six contractors would have bid on the Intermodal Station Project, but decided against doing so because of the labor agreement.

The face of a little baseball player on the verge of tears juxtaposed with scary looking 50-gallon drums strewn about a field is a powerful image, one meant to raise safety concerns about a planned hotel and residential project in Petaluma.

But is it accurate? Or is it a union blackmail tactic to force the developer to agree to hire only union labor for its 39-acre plan?

On Monday night, the Petaluma City Council will be asked to approve the final environmental impact report and zoning maps for Riverfront, a plan for a 120-room hotel, commercial and office space, 4 acres of parks and trails, 273 housing units including townhouses, live-work units and apartments, and space for a community boathouse.

Friday, 18 July 2014 13:38

Judge project on its merits

On Monday, the Petaluma City Council will consider approving a well-designed mixed use project that would meet many of the city's long-term development goals, generate an estimated $600,000 annually in new tax revenues and 2,500 permanent and temporary jobs. The 39-acre Riverfront development, which includes 273 homes, a 120-room hotel, 60,000 square feet of office space, and 30,000 square feet of retail, has, remarkably, elicited exactly zero opposition locally.

For a project of this magnitude to generate no local opposition is extraordinary in Petaluma, a city where, historically, local city council elections have frequently been decided on public perceptions of overdevelopment.

But in the case of the Riverfront project, the city is getting what is wants: a mix of uses that appropriately achieves local goals for new housing, office and retail space, open space, recreational facilities and overnight lodging facilities.

Friday, 18 July 2014 13:33

Builders oppose building?

Unions raise environmental objections to Riverfront plan

On Monday, the Petaluma City Council will have to decide if environmental concerns raised by trade unions about the mixed-use project proposed on the Petaluma River are genuine, or a smokescreen used to delay the project following failed labor discussions.

Construction policy consultant Kevin Dayton of the Coalition of Fair Employment in Construction said all over the state, he has seen labor unions use this tactic as a punitive measure to stall projects. But union representatives say the issues they've raised are sincere.

"Almost always, they do this because they're pressuring the developer for some sort of economic concession — usually a project labor agreement," Dayton said while addressing the Petaluma Planning Commission during last month's public comment on the project. "It's too bad that the union representatives here aren't being open about that."

The Fairfield City Council is poised Tuesday to hand big-labor special interests a huge victory. Specifically they are set to approve a project labor agreement on the new Fairfield train station.

A project labor agreement is a highly controversial agreement that city staff spent less than 90 days "negotiating" with local union bosses. The agreement will discriminate against the 85 percent of the area construction workforce that is union-free and cost taxpayers dearly, adding at least $10 million to the cost of the project due to fewer companies bidding.

The council at its April 12 meeting unanimously approved the concept of a project labor agreement despite a great deal of public opposition. They directed staff to "negotiate" the agreement with unions (no one else is allowed into these backroom negotiations) and less than three months later they have their "agreement."

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