• Jan. 27, 2020

Santa Cruz City Council May Analyze Project Labor Agreements - Unions Won't Like That

Re: January 28, 2020 City Council Agenda Item #24: Evaluation of the Potential Use of Project Labor Agreements, Community Workforce Agreements or Other Approaches for City Construction Projects to Produce Long-term Community Workforce and Local Business Benefits

Dear Santa Cruz City Councilmembers:

The Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction (CFEC) promotes fair and open competition in bidding practices and equal opportunity for all workers - whether represented by a union or independent - on public works construction contracts.

We are surprised and pleased to see your January 28, 2020 agenda item "to direct staff to conduct an analysis of the potential for using a Project Labor Agreement, Community Workforce Agreement or other applicable approaches to increase community benefits for local skilled trades and construction workers and produce other long-term community benefits as part of the completion of City construction projects.”

This may seem strange to you because CFEC is a leading vocal opponent of Project Labor Agreements. But the City of Santa Cruz is doing something unusual on this issue: it is analyzing it.

Here’s how Northern California local governments typically handle Project Labor Agreements:

(1) An item abruptly appears on a meeting agenda to negotiate or implement a Project Labor Agreement policy.

(2) The meeting is packed with union activists from all over Northern California, along with toadying local politicians trying to earn union support for their campaigns.

(3) The governing board parrots the talking points of the unions and votes to require businesses to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of working on construction contracts.

(4) Unions get their monopoly on public works contracts, with subsequent bid results that demonstrate the validity of classical economic theory by proving that monopolies distort the market, to the detriment of the customer.

In contrast, you are apparently trying to gather information to make an informed decision. This means the City of Santa Cruz will examine the positive and negative impacts of Project Labor Agreements.

Three recommendations from the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction:

(1) For a fair analysis, do not contract out to biased "researchers" such as the University of California Labor Program or an individual named Michael Vlaming who portrays himself as neutral but is extensively connected to construction trade union business. This would be like hiring the unions themselves to prepare your analysis.

(2) Seek and incorporate input from a wide variety of sources, including the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction. We have local experts with more than 25 years of research and experience on this issue who are prepared to give you solid data about the performance of Project Labor Agreements locally and throughout California.

(3) Conduct a survey of general contractors and subcontractors that bid on City of Santa Cruz construction and construction-related professional service contracts within the past five years. There are model questionnaires other have used (see attached). Ask if a Project Labor Agreement in bid specifications would change their likelihood of bidding on City of Santa Cruz contracts - and if so, to explain the reasons.

Thank you for not succumbing to the political pressure to act immediately at the behest of powerful special interest groups. We look forward to providing our data for your Project Labor Agreement analysis.


Eric Christen
Executive Director
Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction


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