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Debate Over Prop A: Should City Ban Project Labor Agreements?

Evening Edition

Eric Christen, executive director of Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction Against Prop A, and Donna Frye, former San Diego City Council member, debate about Prop A, the initiative to limit project labor agreements.

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


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.

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

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | May 7, 2012 at 6:46 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

You go Donna!!

Strong, logical, composed, articulate, and sharp.

Compare that to the gentleman, whoever he is, who appeared slouched, beaty eyed, detached, and incapable of explaining why this is a good idea.

Donna really handed it to this fool, and her points made sense.

The only thing this guy could say in response is " we are being proactive."

Um, no, sir, you don't waste tax payer money by creating more laws and bureaucracy if there is no evidence it's needed.

Obviously this is an easy one, I'm voting NO.

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Avatar for user 'MeritMan'

MeritMan | May 7, 2012 at 6:48 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Did Frye really say that posting construction contracts to the internet costs $450,000 a year? I don’t think so. But let’s say it does. Does not having this ban in place relieve them of the openness that posting such agreements to the web gives taxpayers?

Project Labor Agreements have already been shown to raise costs. At: you will find a recent study that looked at California school construction projects built with and without a PLA. The peer reviewed study found that there is a 15% to 18% cost increase when using a PLA.

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Avatar for user 'GeraldFnord'

GeraldFnord | May 8, 2012 at 8:56 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Is cost the sole arbiter of how decisions were made? If so, there's a large country nearby filled with people who will work fairly cheaply....

My point being is that the government must be a good steward of the monies put in its care, but its obligations do not end there, and include (in my arrogant and entirely accurate opinion) setting a model for fair and decent treatment of workers, which is in our self-interest because most of us are in that number.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | May 8, 2012 at 9:55 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Now that we have OSHA and other workers rights, unions are obsolete. They should be disbanded, no one should use union labor.

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Avatar for user 'Trappedinaworldhenevermade'

Trappedinaworldhenevermade | May 8, 2012 at 11:20 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Peking_Duck_SD: the phrase you're looking for is "beady-eyed" not "beaty-eyed."

Well, Donna Frye is right about one thing: this is about the unions. Construction union operatives twist the arms of elected officials to vote to require construction companies to sign Project Labor Agreements with them as a condition of working on a taxpayer-funded project. Most people see that scheme for what it is: unions using the government to eliminate their competition and increase the costs.

Proposition A stops the scheme. Unions HATE it when the people get to vote on their policies, because they go down in flames.

Donna Frye complains about the alleged cost of the ballot measure, as if it wasn't one of numerous things for San Diego citizens (and non-citizens) to vote on in June. I think President Obama (on the ballot for Democrat nominee for president) is actually the reason for the cost of the election.

Frye needs to blame the people who signed the petition to put it on the ballot. What is wrong with the people and their silly idea that they should cling to their money instead of making the world a better place by giving it to the government? If only we could get rid of these ballot measures, then the wise masters on the city council could impose Project Labor Agreements without that pesky check and balance from the people who pay the bills. Gosh darn democracy!

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | May 8, 2012 at 11:22 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Paying extra for additional value makes sense. If the contract can provide guaranteed work with a long warranty then perhaps it is a good investment. If it is just a bunch of guys trying to milk the system for extra pay and not producing superior work then it is a waste. Construction is an investment. If you want better pay, offer a better product to invest in and let the customer decide.

As to your second point, more of us are paying into the government than are being paid by it. It is not in the public interest to overpay on a government contract.

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Avatar for user 'TomWins'

TomWins | May 12, 2012 at 10:10 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

There are no PLAs in San Diego but Christen has labeled and advertized the Prop as a way to end them. So what is he really after? It makes me realize that the real pile of heaping bovine scatology is Prop A.

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