By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Carol Kim, general manager, San Diego Building and Constructionj Trades, thanks La Mesa for adopting a PLA
September 28, 2023 (La Mesa)—By a unanimous bipartisan 5-0 vote, the La Mesa Cit Council last night voted to become the first city in San Diego County to adopt a Project Labor Agreement with the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council and associated craft unions. The PLA would apply to public construction projects in La Mesa with a construction value of at least $1 million.
Councilmember Colin Parent proposed approval of the PLA agreement drafted by staff after negotiations with the unions. “We’re making sure we’ll be delivering projects on time and on budget, so taxpayers get the kind of infrastructure they deserve,” said Parent, who also thanked staff and workers who showed up to testify for “standing up for your families, for each other and for working people.”
Councilmember Patricia Dillard said, “I think it’s a win-win for the workers, the unions, our businesses and our city.”
Councilmember Jack Shu said he’d heard “terrible stories” years ago of how workers were being cheated, or communities being cheated when contractors were bringing in workers from out of state.” When those workers went home, the wealth they had earned was spent elsewhere. By contrast, under a PLA, contractors must hire local workers likely to spend money in La Mesa, and just and have state-approved apprenticeship programs.
City Treasurer Matt Strabone noted that data shows the PLA would have a favorable economic impact for the city and minimize risk, since the city can count on the timelines required and projects being completed on time, with local workers likely to spend money at La Mesa businesses. He added that the PLA includes a clause that requires if any city in the region negotiates more favorable terms in a PLA, then La Mesa will automatically get those same terms.
Thirteen speakers spoke during public comments, all but one of them in favor of the PLA. Many speakers represented labor unions, and several were La Mesa residents.
Matthew Gonzalez, general manager with the San Diego Building and Construction Trades, said by hiring workers who live in or near La Mesa, “workers can spend more time with their families, volunteer at their kids’ Little League games” while helping to “cosmetically change their own neighborhoods and contribute to the local economy.” He said PLA projects get completed “on schedule and ahead of budget” in part since the PLA prevents strikes by workers and provides “phenomenal income to support their families.”
Victor Diaz, a union carpenter and La Mesa resident, recalled having a long commute in the past that prevented him from spending enough time with his young children. He said his neighbors who were not union members “got cheated on their pay” because of contractors bringing in people from out of state and “paying cash under the table…This PLA will assure that cheating contractors like those will stay away from La Mesa.”
The lone opponent, Mike McManus with Associated General Contractors, told the Council that “PLAs are discriminatory against over 90% of local contractors who have decided to be non-union.” He said PLAs also “lock out nonunion Latinos” and non-union apprenticeship programs, adding, “80% of our apprentices are Latinos.”
But Gretchen Newsom with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 569 said projects are awarded through a "fair,open and competitive process for union and non-union businesses alike." She added that 92% of all construction apprentices are enrolled in union apprenticeship programs, of whom 62% are Latinos and over90% are women. The apprentices include people with barriers to entry into the workforce, such as foster youths.
Carol Kim, business manager for the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council, countered claims by the Associated General Contractors' represenstative
“Discrimination isn’t something that’s taken place,” she said. She noted that San Diego Unified School District has had a PLA for ten years, with many projects built. “80% of those construction contracts go to non-union contractors,” she said. PLAs in place with local agencies don’t require that workers belong to unions, only that contractors on public projects pay union wages and benefits. “In many of our trades, we have dozens and dozens of non-union workers who have been fully vested in unions because of PLAs…They have never paid union dues or joined a union, but they have benefitted…This is actually collective work, where we decide public tax dollars should do more than build buildings…we should invest in people’s lives.”
Kim concluded her remarks to the City Council, stating, “Thank you for being brave enough to be the first city in the region to bring this forward.”