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Special Project: America's Wall: Decades-Long Struggle To Secure US-Mexico Border

Project Labor Agreement Ban Approved

— Despite intense opposition from area unions, San Diego voters approved Proposition A.

The measure would outlaw Project Labor Agreements in San Diego, which are in large construction projects to set budgets and workers' wages. Most agreements require workers to receive union-level pay, even if the contractor doesn't use unions.

The ban, however, means that hundreds of millions of dollars in state grants and low-cost loans could be lost to the city. Despite the push by developers and contractors to outlaw the agreements, there has never been a project-labor agreement used on a public project in the city.

Eric Christen, the executive director of Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, the group that supports banning the agreements, said an important part of Proposition A is the transparency it brings by requiring the city to post all its construction contracts online.

He added the measure will protect workers' rights. For example, he said San Diego Unified School District's labor agreements "discriminate against workers by forcing them to pay into union health, welfare and pension plans, and forces them to be hired through a union hiring hall despite the fact that they're not in a union."

Christen said Prop A is "not about wages at all," because wages on public projects are already mandated by state and federal government.

Fitch Ratings agency warns passage of Proposition A could hurt the city’s finances. Hired by San Diego to analyze the impact of Proposition A, Fitch reports that the city received $194 million in state capital grant funding in the last two years. But if voters pass Proposition A, that funding could go away.

Recent California legislation blocks the state from spending money on local government projects that ban labor agreements for city projects. In a statement on an Anti-Prop A mailer, State Controller John Chiang said San Diego received $158 million from the state last year for local construction projects. He said those funds would be eliminated going forward if Prop A passes.

Fitch said the city could also end up paying higher interest rates, adding greatly to the cost of new sewers, streets, water systems and other public works.

Opponents of Proposition A note that there never has been a project-labor agreement on a public project in the city and say the proposition is a solution in search of a problem.

Lorena Gonzalez, head of the San Diego and Imperial counties labor council, said she believes voters did not understand the consequences of Proposition A.

"It is nothing that we did not expect," Gonzalez said. "We have laid the foundation for legal cases that are to come."

But Christen countered "waiting for workers to be discriminated against is not how we operate."

"We like to proactively protect workers' rights and taxpayers' dollars," he said. "We know the unions have a PLA drawn up for the new City Hall." He added that unions wanted agreements for the airport expansion.

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