UPDATE FEB. 23: The Board has voted unanimously to outlaw project labor agreements through an ordinanance, instead of putting a similar measure on the ballot.
February 20, 2010 (San Diego) – San Diego's Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on whether to place a ballot initiative before voters that would ban project labor agreements (PLAs). PLAs, adopted in other jurisdictions but not by the Supervisors, mandate that government contracts for public construction projects go to contracts that hire union workers.
Supporters of PLAs say they are needed to assure that jobs will go to local workers paid decent wages, not cheap labor imported from elsewhere. Opponents contend that outlawing PLAs will cut costs and save money for cash-strapped jurisdictions.
Supervisors voted unanimously to direct its lawyers to draft ballot language to amend the county charter to prohibit project labor agreements. The Boardl also asked staff to draft an ordinance to ban PLAs without putting the issue before voters. Both the proposed ballot measure and ordinance will be considered at Tuesday’s meeting.
Supervisor Bill Horn called for the ballot measure, arguing that project labor agreements are discriminatory against non-union members . "Preferential treatment and narrowed competition often cause bids to come in higher, and they drive up the cost of public projects," he told his colleagues.
But some local officials disagree, arguing that PLAs create good-paying local jobs with benefits and are needed to halt the downward wage spiral in our region, ultimately boosting the economy by putting more disposable income in the pockets of workers and their families.
Sheila Jackson, president of the San Diego Unified School District, which recently adopted PLAs for the district’s planned bond measure construction projects, observed, “If steps are not taken to improve wages and provide healthcare for families with children, we will not be America’s Finest City.”
San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council secretary-treasurer/CEO Lorena Gonzalez reacted with outrage to the Board’s announcement.
“Can you imagine the ways the County Board of Supervisors could spend $100,000?” she said, referring to the cost of putting the measure before voters. “Funding for the Arts? Food Stamps for the Poor? Beach Clean-ups up and down the coast? Fire protection? Whatever your passion, you probably don’t think the Board should spend $100,000 to place an irrelevant initiative on the ballot to ban requiring Project Labor Agreements (PLAs),” she said, noting that the County has never even considered adopting PLAs, so the measure is unnecessary.
Pam Slater-Price is viewed as the swing vote, Gonzalez said, urging voters to ask their Supervisors not to waste taxpayer money by placing an initiative on the ballot.