The question, which has held up construction of the new facility, is whether or not to impose a first-of-its-kind project labor agreement in Los Angeles County. The agreement, touted as a solution to woes in the local job market and a mechanism to ensure wages and job stability in construction, has faced criticisms and questions from members on the Board of Supervisors and the businesses community, even as labor unions and their members have voiced their support.
PublicCEO covered the debate that has raged in several articles from earlier this year. Proponents of Project Labor Agreements like the one being considered by Los Angeles County, people like Richard Slawson, who testified before the Board on multiple occasions. In a PublicCEO story published February 25, 2011, Mr. Slawson told PublicCEO, “PLAs don’t ensure that local people stay competitive in the market. It makes sure that local people are included in a project that’s paid for with local funds and administered by a local agency.”
Others, like Ray Vandermat, an attorney for the Los Angeles-Orange County Trades Council said that PLAs can help taxpayers money go further.
“The Building Trades Council has a Project Labor Agreement with Los Angeles Community College District… [for] work under a PLA,” said Mr. Vandermat at the December 14th Board of Supervisors meeting. “And for 39 projects that ranged in value from $80,000 to $45 million.”
Vandermat continued, “I think the L.A.C.C.D.’s experience has shown… there are actually cost savings to be had.”
But there were people then, as there are now, who disagree with the premise of a PLA. That included Art Geller, the Human Resources Manager at Helix Electric.
“We have a company policy that keeps us from touching any project with a mandatory PLA,” said Mr. Geller in the same February 25th article. “We have our own health and welfare program, but we’d still have to pay into the union sponsored health and welfare program. And we don’t want to pay twice.”
The Board of Supervisors also had similar divisions in thought, as PublicCEO covered a month later, in a March 24th article. That article quoted Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky saying that, “[Project Labor Agreements] are a little bit more complicated than it sounds. There are a lot of nuances that make a big difference in terms of cost and delay.”
Supervisor Gloria Molina had questions about the fairness of making non-union contractors pay for union benefits that their employees would likely never vest in. Ms. Molina also expressed concerns about restrictions placed on what would qualify an apprentice for work. Typical Project Labor Agreements stipulate that only apprentices coming from union-run programs can be used on an included project.
As these conversations continued, employees from the office of the county Chief Executive William T Fujioka were negotiating terms for a potential project labor agreements with members of the various construction trade unions in Los Angeles.
However, the Board of Supervisors had made it clear during their December meeting that they wanted to make sure that the Merit Shop contractors had a seat at the table during the conversations. Specifically, Supervisors Molina and Antonovich were troubled about how workers and laborers could be impacted by a PLA.
“I’m trying to find out the benefit for the worker,” Supervisor Molina said during the meeting. “Because that’s who I represent, is the worker who every day is struggling to keep up with his family.”
One of her concerns was about workers who would have to pay into a benefits package or pension plan that they would be unlikely to vest it. She wanted to know how such a structure benefited the laborer.
To help resolve issues and concerns raised by Ms. Molina and others, Mr. Fujikowa’s employees met with interested stakeholders, including members of the non-union construction industry.
Eric Christen, the Executive Director of the Coalition for Fair Employment In Construction, was present at the January 13, 2011 meeting with the CEO’s office. His group, along with several others, had objections to four aspects of a standard PLA, apprenticeship restrictions, medical/pension plan payments, core work force, and an untenable local hire requirement.
“Our objections were listened to,” Christen told PublicCEO in a phone interview. “And then they ignored everything we talked about. They did the minimum of what was ordered by the Supervisors.”
In other words, Mr. Fujikowa’s representatives followed the letter of what had been approved, but not the spirit of the December 14, 2010 motion.
“They were told to make it non-harmful, but everything that is in there is harmful to non-union contractors and workers,” Christen said.
Kevin Korenthal, the executive director of the ABC-CCC, echoed Christen’s statements. “There was no good faith effort to include our concerns. None are present in the working document that staff prepared.”
Even the staff report attached to today’s agenda item admits that the standard form of a PLA hasn’t been altered. “The general form of the proposed CWA is based on, and patterned after, the PSA currently in place with the Los Angeles Unified School District.”
Should the board vote in favor of their agenda item, the Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center would begin to move forward once again, but now under Los Angeles County’s first ever Project Labor Agreement.