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County builders oppose union-only work at Cuesta College 

At its Board of Directors meeting Jan. 21, the San Luis Obispo County Builders Exchange directors unanimously approved a resolution opposing a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) at Cuesta College on Measure L construction work. The $277 million bond was passed by local voters in November for major expansion and upgrading of Cuesta College facilities. The Cuesta College Board of Trustees is now considering putting a PLA on the work. A PLA mandates that only union firms may bid and do the work.The San Luis Obispo County workforce is about 10-percent union and 90-percent non-union, according to the builders exchange.

SLO-Builders-Exchange“There was nothing in the bond measure language that said anything about a Project Labor Agreement,” says Leslie Halls, executive director of the builders exchange. “Had the voters known that a PLA would be approved, eliminating most of our local workforce from working on this massive construction project, I doubt this bond would have passed.” Halls also says that all of the buildings at both Cuesta College campuses have been built without a PLA and are still standing.

Opponents of PLAs have cited numerous studies showing that a PLA drives up costs (typically 13-15 percent in school construction), adds additional burdensome reporting requirements, severely limits competitive bidding, and in rural areas such as San Luis Obispo County, results in most of the work being done by out of area contractors.

This curtails some of the positive economic impact of the work, according to the builders exchange. As a general rule, every dollar spent in construction re-circulates four times through the economy. If a firm joins the union just to work on the project, it must pay union dues and also healthcare, retirement benefits, apprenticeship training, etc. based on the hourly wage of the worker. Since the worker is not vested, the money will go into the union and the worker will never receive it. For a contractor who already provides benefit to his workers, it becomes cost-prohibitive to pay benefits twice and still bid the job competitively.

Proponents of PLAs are construction trade unions who claim a PLA is necessary to avoid strikes and work stoppages, and to provide better skilled workers. PLAs were common fifty years ago and have only resurfaced in the past few years as construction unions have struggled with declining membership and resulting unfunded pension and healthcare liabilities, according to the builders exchange.

At the Jan. 7 Cuesta College Trustees meeting, representatives of various construction trade unions gave a lengthy presentation promoting a PLA. At the upcoming Feb. 4 trustees meeting, the college’s attorney is expected to give a “pros and cons” presentation in follow-up to the unions’ presentation the month before.

Halls said she, members of the board of directors of the builders exchange, and numerous members of the exchange, many of whom had worked on the college’s construction projects in the past, plan to speak during public comment on this agenda item.

“This is a really big deal,” Halls said. “On its face it is discriminatory. We will pay for these buildings for the next thirty years, but we are not be permitted to build them because we aren’t members of a certain group?”

The Board of Trustees meeting is at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 4, at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo.

The San Luis Obispo County Builders Exchange is a nonprofit contractors association with over 600 members.

Source: Press release from the San Luis Obispo County Builders Exchange

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