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Proposition G Raises Questions About Jobs

Audio

Aired 4/14/10

Millions of dollars in construction projects are waiting in the wings for the economy to move out of its bust cycle and into the next boom. As the economic momentum builds, a battle is underway over who will get those construction jobs. Chula Vista’s Proposition G is one of the battle grounds over so-called “Project Labor Agreements.”

Millions of dollars in construction projects are waiting in the wings for the economy to move out of its bust cycle and into the next boom. As the economic momentum builds, a battle is underway over who will get those construction jobs. Chula Vista’s Proposition G is one of the battle grounds over so-called “Project Labor Agreements.”

The sound of construction will be much more common when all the talk of new public buildings becomes a reality. Chula Vista is a city with big plans for its water front when the economy picks up, and that’s what makes Proposition G on the June ballot important.

Scott Crosby of Associated Builders and Contractors, ABC, spoke at a recent forum on Prop G.

“It’s no secret what’s at stake -- jobs are at stake,” Crosby told an audience of business and labor leasers. “Proposition G will simply ensure a fair and open competition, which allows for the best quality work at the lowest price possible.”

Proposition G would ban “project labor agreements,” which require contractors to pay all workers at union scale wages and benefits. That, Crosby says, reduces competition.

But Lorena Gonzales of San Diego’s Labor Council says the initiative is designed to knock companies that hire union workers out of the competition for construction bids.

“The ABC wants to use Chula Vista as an ideological ground zero for their non-union movement.” she said.

Proposition G comes down to a choice between developers offering more jobs with fewer benefits and protections, or fewer but better jobs.

Ruben Barralez of San Diego’s Chamber of Commerce says the business community is divided on this issue.

“It’s important because the issue of project labor agreements has a real economic impact in terms of workers, in terms of job creation, and in terms of development: where we want to see development in places like Chula Vista, Oceanside, San Diego -- how we want to see them develop.”

Oceanside has its own version of the debate. On its June ballot is a new city charter that would free the city from state rules that require prevailing wage on city projects. People who live in the city of San Diego may vote on similar issues in November if enough signatures are collected for an initiative called “Competition and Transparency in City Contracting.”

Phil Blair is head of Manpower Services, a temporary employment agency. He says he’s convinced project labor agreements that require certain standards and guarantees from construction companies will be a drag on development.

“I think it makes all of our projects more expensive,” Blair said, “and therefore the taxpayers dollars -- or the construction dollars -- will go less far, meaning fewer projects.”

Blair points to the San Diego Unified School Board which voted to spend its school bond money on contractors who operate with project labor agreements. He says city schools could have made the money go further if they had not been beholden to unions.

But School Board member, Sheila Jackson, says going with project labor agreements is not just about low bids, but about good jobs, and she says it’s not necessarily about union jobs.

“This is what people get caught up in when they hear “project labor.” They get that labor mentality.” Jackson said, “What this is about is about our working families, and one thing I stand for is, the neediest families that receive these lower wage paying jobs, if those jobs come with benefits and a living wage, then they are able to contribute back into our tax base, which raises our city.”

San Diego County Supervisors don’t see it that way. They recently passed an ordinance to ban project labor agreements from their public works projects. However they stopped short of putting the issue on the ballot.

Supervisor Greg Cox says the board can change its position with another vote, whereas a voter initiative is much harder to reverse.

“The devil is always in the details,” Cox said, “and in California, we have seen so many initiatives it has made the state almost ungovernable.”

Pamela Bensoussian, a Chula Vista city councilwoman, says she’s afraid Proposition G would have unintended consequences, and disqualify the city from certain state or federal funding for bay front projects.

“Why tie our hands?” Bensoussian said. “e are a city with a singular focus to get the bay front back on track. This proposition G creates uncertainty, it’s not good for Chula Vista.”

Agencies around California are wrestling with this issue. Orange County Supervisors have come out against project labor agreements. Supervisors in Riverside County decided to protect them. The outcome of the San Diego votes will make a difference to how many construction jobs are created, who gets those jobs and what kind of jobs they are.

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