What may have been a misunderstanding devolved into a division between union and nonunion members of the local building industry.

A motion supporting changes to a union representative's proposal to amend contract language regulating apprenticeship programs for the building industry failed Wednesday night at the Arcata City Council meeting after many people spoke against it.

Ultimately, the council unanimously voted to approve a “feel good” statement supporting apprenticeship instead of the proposal, despite multiple failed motions from Vice Mayor Shane Brinton to continue working on the issue.

Local union rep Sid Berg may have bitten off more than he could chew in trying to push a re-write of Arcata city policy to favor apprenticeship training run primarily by organized labor.

An overflow crowd in Council Chambers tonight held back little in expressing their anger at the potential loss of city public works contracts for local building firms, most of whom would not qualify under the draft regulations.

“This proposal will tip the scales heavily in favor of union contractors,” Humboldt Builders Exchange spokesperson Rob McBeth said. “It’s very discriminatory to small sole proprietor businesses…in this time of tight budgets and scarce resources, why would you want to reduce competition?”

In 2008, voters in and around Chula Vista approved a $389 million construction bond for Southwestern College, a two-year school that each semester serves about 20,000 students. The money is to be used for construction, reconstruction and/or rehabilitation of facilities, including the furnishing and equipping of its facilities, acquisition, or lease of real property for its facilities and construction management by district personnel.

According to most observers, including the citizens' bond oversight committee, which observes and offers comments and suggestions, the work has gone along quite well. Apparently, however, it has not enriched the dues, pension and health funds for the construction unions. Why else quietly and quickly call a meeting to discuss the possibility of imposing a project labor agreement?

The meeting was well-attended. Union leaders called upon the Board of Governors to agree to a PLA. The San Diego County Taxpayers Association representative reminded the board that requiring construction firms to agree to a PLA to work on a project funded by taxpayers is poor public policy. Fair and open competition for the work, shaped by building codes and local employee goals, should be the dictator of the bidding.

President Barack Obama recently pronounced that it's time for companies to "step up" and increase hiring. Specifically, he said "the issue here is not uncertainty. The issue is they've got to start placing their bets on America" and that "it's time for companies to step up."

How fascinating.

Something the president seems not to understand is that the main reason there are millions of Americans either unemployed or underemployed and we sit at 9.2 percent unemployment is government and the economic distortions government at all levels imposes on the marketplace.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011 00:00

Project Labor Revolt

The states ban union political bid-rigging. Obama demurs.
One benefit of the squeeze on state and local budgets is that politicians are finally having to confront their
sweetheart deals with labor unions. The latest reform movement is moving against project labor agreements, or PLAs, that limit bids on construction projects to contractors that agree to union representation.

Only about 13% of construction workers belong to unions, and PLAs are a union invention to use their political muscle to organize more companies. Proponents argue that PLAs ensure the speed and quality of construction plans. But PLAs are one of the reasons that Boston's Big Dig was estimated at $2.8 billion but eventually cost $22 billion. Studies show that projects under PLA contracts on average cost 12% to 18% more than projects awarded by open, competitive bidding. Taxpayers pick up much of this tab.

The case of New York City is instructive. In 2009, the city's construction union and the association of builders agreed to an Economic Recovery Project Labor Agreement in the name of lowering costs and unfreezing construction halted during the recession. Some projects such as Frank Gehry's 76-story Beekman Tower did start, only to see costs skyrocket. According to the New York State Comptroller, wages have risen 12% city-wide, more than three times inflation. Contractors say strict union job classifications mean they have to employ superfluous workers. Many projects have frozen again, as PLA contracts expire and builders balk at new ones.

Facing the pressure of blackmail, a California Agency is seeking to railroad through a suspicious Project Labor Agreement that will waste dollars and embarrass a number of local government agencies.

The vote is set to take place next week over a Project Labor Agreement for a power plant project in Lodi.

The Northern California Power Agency (NCPA) seeks to adopt an agreement that would bar fair and open competition for labor bids on the project, based on the threats of labor unions.