Let’s be clear about one thing: We’re strong supporters of both living and prevailing wage laws. We’re even strong supporters of unions in their time and place. In their time and place being the qualifier. In many cases, the decline of union wages and benefits resulted not from an erosion of union wages but the steady increase of non-union wages and benefits in some labor sectors because employers wish to retain talented individuals. In many cases, many non-union companies actually pay more and offer better benefits than their union counterparts all in their own self-interests of remaining competitive and retaining the best talent.
The added bonus here is that non-union workers don’t have to pay union dues so if the wages and benefits are better and there are no dues to pay, where would you prefer to go to work?
San Diego county is staunchly conservative and deep in Republican territory. According to BLS estimates, only 10% of San Diego’s construction companies employ union workers. The other 90% of San Diego’s construction companies are non-union. Construction is one of those areas where wages have dropped across the board for both union and non-union workers due to mainly greater mechanical efficiencies. In the old days of construction if you were going to put up a large project, you just assumed 2 or 3 people would be killed during its construction and numerous others would be maimed and injured. It was part of doing the construction business. Then came workers comp insurance laws and transformed the landscape of what was acceptable as far as safety on the job. Suddenly employers found themselves paying for the privilege of unsafe work practices with higher workers comp premiums. During the years spanning from the second world war all the way up to the 1970’s, construction was booming. At their height unions represented more than 87% of construction workers. Today that figure has dropped to less than 15% as big ticket public construction and infrastructure projects dried up.
So we find it fascinating to learn that the AOC is trading public and court worker safety for a PLA, better known as a project labor agreement and that this is all happening without any vote of the judicial council.
You see, a project labor agreement all but omits non-union firms from bidding on PLA projects because non-union firms have to pay all benefits for their workers twice. They pay the regular benefits that they normally pay their workers and by law they’re required to pay prevailing (usually union) wages on these projects but they also must reimburse the local union as if the union were going to be paying those same benefits to their union workforce – and a project labor agreement makes it perfectly clear that they are not going to be supplying these workers benefits. In exchange for a project labor agreement on the San Diego courthouse which has thus far been an unprecedented move for the AOC on any court construction project, the AOC can rest assured that they will experience no labor unrest in the largest non-union city in the state of California. It might make sense in Sacramento. It might have made sense in Long Beach. It might have made sense in San Francisco all because all of these locations have dozens of union contractors.
But San Diego does not have dozens of union contractors, so not only does a PLA drive out non-union contractors, the few contractors that bid will get to name their price which we can assure you will be far greater than the 620 million being budgeted for the project. Was this a political deal to placate the building and construction trades council for the mass cancellation of other projects so that they could continue to win legislative support ? Why didn’t this come up between the muppets on the council for debate and a vote? Is this the AOC going rogue yet again? Lots of questions.
While the AOC characterizes that the agreement will only cost 6-9 million, contractors are up in arms and pointing out that this will cost the state 25-30 million more which coincidentally was the price tag for the tunnel going from the jail to the courthouse that would have ensured public and court worker safety.
It’s just another day of selling out your own court workforce for a temporary construction workforce that will be on the job for 2 years at most.
The factors that make this all so fascinating is an all republican leadership at the helm of the judicial branch entering into a PLA in a staunchly conservative city that has no love whatsoever for unions.
In a perfect world, this would not compute. But in the land of the AOC anything and everything is possible
- Cato Institute White Paper: – Why PLA’s on public projects are no longer a good idea.
- San Diego Union-Tribune: Public Safety loses, labor wins at new courthouse
- Will Ohio ban government-mandated Project Labor Agreements? (watchdog.org)
- As Transparent As An Iron Curtain (judicialcouncilwatcher.com)