Debate Over Prop A: Should City Ban Project Labor Agreements?
Monday, May 7, 2012
Aired 5/7/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.
Guests: For Prop A: Eric Christen, Executive Director, Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction
Against Prop A: Donna Frye, former San Diego City Council member
Special Feature Election 2012 Voter Guide
State Controller John Chiang recently said that if San Diego's Prop A passes - banning project labor agreements - the city won't be able to receive funding for construction projects. Last year, San Diego got $158 million from the state for construction.
Project Labor Agreements are used 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.
Eric Christen, the executive director of Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, the group that supports banning the agreements, spoke to KPBS. He pointed out that in a November 2010 ballot measure, 76 percent of voters passed a ban on the agreements for county construction.
"We couldn't get 100 people in this room, 76 of them to agree what the weather is like outside today, but voters get this issue," he said. "PLAs discriminate, they rip off taxpayers, they're bad, voters get it. So you can see the union bosses sitting back after this going, 'you know, the voters really seem to be in on this, let's protect workers rights, let's protect taxpayer dollars, what the heck are we going to do going forward?'
"We've got this heaping pile of bovine scatology that we want people to believe is chocolate mousse. But the voters actually see it for what it is, which is a big heaping pile of BS."
But former San Diego City Councilwoman Donna Frye said Christen was "not being honest with you about what the effect will be on the taxpayers."
She cited the recently-passed state law, SB 829, which Frye said promises that if Prop A passes, the city won't receive state funding for its construction projects. In addition, she said, Prop A's provision that all city construction projects be posted online would cost the city more than $500,000 up front and $450,000 a year annually.
"Eric and his coalition are picking a fight, but they don't want to pay for it," Frye said. "They want to use a smokescreen of accountability that's going to cost taxpayers $500,000 up front, then it's going to cost them $450,000 annually, then they want to put the taxpayer dollars at risk, hundreds of millions of dollars in construction funding from the state, they're willing to gamble with the taxpayers' money, and then if that's not enough, of heaving the public under the bus, they want to go and have this battle and continue this court battle again."
But Christen said an important part of Prop 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.
"Workers are paid the same regardless of a PLA," he said.
Frye said the city of San Diego has never been a party to any project labor agreement, "which is why this is even goofier than one can imagine."
But Chirsten countered that "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 and already have one for San Diego Unified School District.
Special Feature KPBS Election Coverage
Frye said if Prop A passes, "it's going to turn into a legal mess because we know Prop A proponents have been losing at court."
"So now they're trying to do an end runaround the courts, and they're going to be challenging this," she said. "Guess who gets to pay for that legal challenge? The taxpayers."
Prop A will be on the June 5 ballot.
KPBS Midday Edition intern Agnes Radomski contributed to this segment