Read the opinion of Bob Balgenorth, President of the State Building and Construction Trades Council, on his pro-Project Labor Agreement stance.
It would be easy to make arguments for a competitive and level playing field when discussing PLAs.
For me the topic flows in a number of images.
The first is one of shock when the Board of Supervisors approved the requirement for PLAs on county related projects. Why would a board comprised of five Republicans vote to approve this?
Well, the answer is that only a three-member voting-block approved this counter-intuitive initiative. And they did it for a simple, but inexcusable, reason. At the time the PLA was approved, Orange County was in the middle of a major land battle over the issue of converting the closing El Toro Marine Base into an international airport.
The voters had seen two countywide ballot measures in support of the conversion. Soon the voters were going to weigh in on a third ballot measure. This time the anti-airport constituency was mobilized, funded and emotional. The three-member voting-block needed help.
The public unions traded putting their shoulders toward the effort for the PLA. For them it was a win-win. If they succeeded in defeating the anti-airport measure, they would have participated in building the new airport. If they lost, they still had the PLA in place. It was a clever way for the camel to get its nose under the tent in a politically conservative county.
The anti-airport movement prevailed. Their ballot measure passed. An airport at El Toro was lost, but the PLA was still in place.
I can still remember being in a room ten years ago with non-union shop representatives debating the feasibility of gathering signatures for an anti-PLA ballot measure to undo the embarrassing damage. They decided the cost was too high and the battle too formidable.
Some five years later, the county let the PLA requirement lapse and the new Board of Supervisors communicated that such a decision would not occur again under their watch.
End of discussion? No. Approving an ordinance that would prohibit the requirement for a PLA, unless mandated by state or Federal law, had to be done in order to make it difficult for future boards to make the “El Toro” faux pas.
This action incited the ire of the union community and their methods of persuasion were anachronistic. The “old-school” methods of protesting outside the Board’s office were utilized on two occasions. Both protests included two large inflatable rats. That was not very persuasive.
Testimony at our Board meetings included false claims and threats. “We tried to schedule meetings with each of the Supervisors.” I never received a call. “If you vote for this ordinance, we’ll go after you in your next election!” That’s persuasive.
The most interesting argument was “if you’re already opposed to doing a PLA, then why institutionalize it in an ordinance?” It made one wonder, if it really doesn’t change anything, then why are you here with inflatable rats, false claims and threats?
We’re talking about competitiveness, not coercion. Having a level playing field is the best approach for the taxpayers. If you need an edge to win, then you’re probably not running your business properly. And forcing your competitors to pay more or to claim that they are abusing their employees is not a logical argument when governments are retaining the lowest and most responsible bidders.
The images of the absurdity of mandating a PLA destroys the credibility of the good arguments that may be there to consider one. If your best argument is to force it on us, then you’ve failed in the debate before you’ve started.
John M.W. Moorlach, C.P.A.
Orange County Supervisor, Second District