Supervisors consider measure to ban labor agreements


City News Service

The Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to consider putting a measure on the June 8 ballot that would ban project labor agreements on developments being undertaken by San Diego County.

A project labor agreement mandates that government contracts for public construction projects go only to union contractors.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to direct its lawyers to draft ballot language that would amend the county charter to prohibit project labor agreements. The panel also asked staff to craft an ordinance that would bar the labor deals without having to go to voters.

Both the proposed ballot language and ordinance will be considered by the Board of Supervisors at its next meeting.

Supervisor Bill Horn called for the ballot measure, arguing that project labor agreements are discriminatory by giving preferential treatment to labor unions and drive up the cost of construction projects.

“Basically, they close out any non-union competition for projects,” Horn said.

“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.

His push for a project labor agreement ban comes despite the county’s record of shying away from the deals.

Union officials argued the agreements don’t drive up the cost of construction, but rather create middle-class, local jobs with benefits.

“Project labor agreements enable governing bodies, such as this county board, to create local jobs and achieve social welfare goals through construction projects,” said Susan Brondell of SEIU Local 221.

“Project labor agreements re-inject the tax dollars paying for these infrastructure projects back into the San Diego community,” Brondell told the supervisors.

Supervisor Greg Cox said that while he doesn’t favor project labor agreements, the deals shouldn’t be mandated or prohibited.

“I don’t want to require that you have project labor agreements,” Cox said. “And, I don’t know that its necessarily in the best interest to require that you preclude them.”

Cox said he was concerned about the $100,000 cost of putting the measure on the ballot. He was also critical about the late-docketing of the item for consideration.

He convinced his colleagues to agree to consider an ordinance as an alternative to a ballot measure. Supervisor Ron Roberts also said he prefers an ordinance over taking the issue to voters.

Horn said a ballot measure was needed over an ordinance to prevent future supervisors from simply amending the law.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob said she supports the ballot measure and favors “open competition.”

“I don’t believe that any contractor should be excluded because they are union or non-union.” she said.

Pam Slater-Price, chair of the Board of Supervisors, said she wanted more information on PLAs before making a determination.

A similar effort to prohibit construction agreements that favor labor unions is under way in the city of San Diego.

A coalition of building contractors joined San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio in November to announce a signature-gathering effort to put a measure on the ballot that would prohibit project labor agreements.

There isn’t currently a project labor agreement before the city, but San Diego is looking into building a new City Hall, central library and downtown stadium for the Chargers and expanding the Convention Center.