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Prop A And Project Labor Agreements

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May 7, 2012 1:09 p.m.

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

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


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

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CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Monday, May 7th. Our top story is Proposition A, on the City of San Diego's June ballot. Will the proposition is about the use of project laborer agreements, which are a list of agreed upon terms by a government and a contractor regarding a construction project. The terms often include the total cost of the project, how much workers will be paid, and a completion date. In recent year, the building industry has made an effort to get governments to ban project laborer agreements or PLAs because of claims they give union contractors an unfair advantage. This time, as voters in the City of San Diego get ready to vote on another proposed PLA ban, it seems legislation in Sacramento may have thrown a curve ball into this ballot measure. My guests are Donna Frye, former San Diego City Council member, who is opposed to proposition A. Welcome back to the program.

FRYE: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And Eric Christen is executive director of the coalition for fair employment in construction. He supports Prop A. Welcome to the show.

CHRISTEN: Thanks Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Now, first of all, is prop A a ban on project labor agreements? There seems to be some disagreement about that. Eric?

CHRISTEN: Well, first of all, thanks for having us here today, and I'd like to say that I wouldn't equate it to throwing a curve ball, I would equate it to throwing a hail Mary.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, all right.

CHRISTEN: We have had three votes in this region. The city has already voted on this in November, 2010. 26 banned project labor agreements on public projects. So the citizens have already spoken. What we've attempted to do here are three things. One, we want to have all contracts placed online. Now, we hear a lot of rhetoric about the city all right does that. Well, it doesn't do what we do, which is not only have all construction projects placed online, but it mandates that the actual contracts themselves and the bidders are placed online. It codifies this into law so it's not just something that's up to the whim of a City Council who can take that off any time. So it's very clear what it does in that regard. Secondly, it protects workers' rights, and it saves the taxpayers' dollars. We have had a local quit agree and put forth a study that show PLAs increase 13%. What we've done more specifically is ban the city, in this case, prop A will deal only with the city, a local charter city, from being allowed to place a project labor agreement on any project. If a private entity wishes to do that, if there are state funds and this unconstitutional SB829, is actually upheld, which I don't think it will be, there is a provision in our statement, in our measure that says that the city can move forthwith the PLA. So it really doesn't do anything that opponents claim it will do. What it does from our mind is protect workers, taxpayer, and place contracts online for greater transparency.

CAVANAUGH: Now, you've answered two questions that I was going to ask you. So I will go over and start with Donna. The way you read this measure, does it ban project labor agreements?

FRYE: Yes. And essentially, what the state controller has told us, and has issued a statement, is that the recently passed legislation that happened in Sacramento does in fact eliminate the opportunity for cities to receive funding for city construction project fist they pass a project labor agreement ban. But let me injuries I just want to do an overview.

CAVANAUGH: Sure because I was going to ask you, why do we need -- because you oppose this, what does project labor agreements give us? Eric told us the reasons that he wants to see them eliminated. Why should we keep them?

FRYE: Well, I think what we need to do is have that debate about whether they're good or bad and talk about the reality of proposition A because essentially it's like a taxpayer funded trip to the craps table. And essentially what's going to happen is just to sit at the table, it's going to cost taxpayers half a million dollars. And then it's going to cost $450,000 annually if they want to keep playing. And next it uses the taxpayer funds to bet against the house, which in this case is the state that has said you can't do this, and if you do, we're going to take away the state funding for city construction projects. In the last two year, that was over $200†million. But it's taxpayer money. And the proponents are saying these issues will likely be raised in courts because that's where it's going to happen of the so they up the taxpayer ante by making the public pay for their private battles against labor. And I think that's wrong. I don't think it's fair, I don't think it's accountable, and I don't think they're being honest about the costs of this ballot measure. I haven't heard once one mention of the upfront costs. That is not in any of their literature. They don't want to talk about what it costs taxpayers because they upon the truth.

CAVANAUGH: California has just -- Jerry Brown just signed into law SB829, which prevents state funds from going to construction projects in cities that ban project labor agreements. That's what I was talking about with the curve ball, that's what you were talking about with the hail Mary pass, Eric. Doesn't this really change the game for you though?

CHRISTEN: Right, you can just see it after really spending a million dollars on trying to defeat these entities over the last couple of years, they sat back after having their heads handed to them, 76-24, and we couldn't get 100 people in this room to agree what the weather is like outside today, but voters get this issue. PLAs discriminate, they rip off voters. So you can see the city bosses going, the voters seem to be in on this, let's protect workers rights, taxpayer dollars, what are we going to do going forward? We've got this heaping pile of bovine scatology which we want people to believe is chocolate mousse. So they sat back and said let's go to this den of disrepute, this group of people who probably have a lower approval rating than Congress, that have turned our state into the 50th least business-friendly state in America. Let's go to them and have them pass a law that punishes voters in any entity that approves a PLA ban. We're going to tell these people who have their own constitution because we are a charter city, we are going to punish them preemptively because we know they'll pass this.

CAVANAUGH: But they did it.


CAVANAUGH: And now it is a reality. And I understand --

CHRISTEN: No, it's a gimmick.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I mean, it's a law.

CHRISTEN: It's a gimmick.

CAVANAUGH: Signed by the governor.

CHRISTEN: Right, signed on a party line vote by a group of people who have sent us off a fiscally cliff that we believe will have no impact. We believe it's unconstitutional. Believe that really these legislatures from the San Diego area, when time -- when push comes to shove, and should the state actually have any money to give, which is minimal in the scope of thing, that they will actually sit back and go, you people passed this, we warned you, and now we're going to withhold this money from you. You really think they're going to do that?

FRYE: Donna?

FRYE: This whole conversation ignores the fiscal reality of what this is going to cost taxpayers. So while I appreciate the razzel dazzle story look over there, what we have not heard from the prop A proponents is No.†1, what the upfront costs are if this ballot measure passes, what the annual costs are, if this ballot measure pass, what the cost to the taxpayers will be if we do not receive the state construction funding for our projects. It's at least $200†million over the last two years. And finally what it's going to cost to go to court and fight this out. I was looking on their own website, that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of the Boston harbor cleanup project labor agreement. One of the problems they're having is that they are losing in court. And they want to use taxpayer money to fight a battle in court because they don't want to pay for it.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you --

FRYE: Well, I would also say as far as the constitutionality, I'm looking at a document here from the legislative council bureau in Sacramento to the governor that essentially says if the bill is chaptered, it will be constitutional. And that's Senate bill 829, May†3rd, 2012. They know it's constitutional, they're scared, they want to have a private battle with public taxpayer funds.

CAVANAUGH: For the benefit of our listener, you were on the City Council.

FRYE: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: How are these project labor agreements entered into? Is this San Diego City Council now required to have a project labor agreement with a construction company?

FRYE: You know what's so funny about this whole thing, the whole time I was on the City Council, there was not one project labor agreement that the city was ever a party to. There haven't been any. This is another one of those Trumped up solutions, phony solutions, looking for a problem that doesn't exist. And it's really amazing to me that they would lead voters to believe that this somehow is something that the City Council has been doing light and left. They've never done it. There is no mandate, there is no requirement that City Councils mandate project labor agreements. We've never had one! And Eric knows it!

CAVANAUGH: So Eric, how would this create jobs for the San Diego of if they don't have project labor agreements on their construction projects?

CHRISTEN: It's so important because we need to protect workers from discrimination that project labor agreements represent. We need to protect taxpayer dollars that a recent shown increased costs up to 15%. All these things necessary because what we've learned here in San Diego is that we can't afford to wait for the local politicians to discriminate against our workers and punish taxpayers. We are going throughout the region and the state, nine entities have banned PLAs.

CAVANAUGH: But you say on your fliers that this creates more jobs.

CHRISTEN: Correct.

CAVANAUGH: If we don't have project labor agreements now, who you would a ban on them create more jobs for the City of San Diego?

CHRISTEN: Waiting to be hit in the face before you do something about it, practically is not really something that we are -- is not a way that we operate. What we know is that on the new City Hall, on the new charter city, that labor bosses, union bosses, are going to place a PLA on those projects. So we are preemptively going out and banning this type of discrimination from being put into place. You look at San Diego unified where you have a number of union tools who were elected to those positions using union money, thought as Ms. Fry when she ran for office, had almost nothing but union money behind her. These people are paid to have

CHRISTEN: We're not going to wait for them to discriminate against our workers. We're going to go out and fight for the rights of our workers, and the voters are with us. So they go what can we do? Let's punish voter, and withhold money from them before they actually even vote to ban discrimination. Of it's remarkable.

FRYE: This is pretty hysterical.

CAVANAUGH: Let me just say, to be clear though, on quite a number of occasions, Donna Frye, you were looked at as an enemy of labor; isn't that correct?

FRYE: Well, the issue isn't about me, and whether I'm pro or anti-labor. Let's get back on point. The point is that they will not talk to you about the costs of this ballot measure. They don't want to talk to you about the costs. And just recently other agencies have actually started to repeal their bans because they are just taking this seriously. The Palmdale water district said no, we don't want to lose money. But the thing about the transparency, which is hysterical to me, the only thing that prop A requires is that they put the text of the city construction contracts online. It doesn't talk about consulting contracts, it doesn't talk about anything. And this is the tricky part, this is the fun part, this is the smoke and mirrors. They get to decide what will go online and what will be redacted, and what they consider to be confidential. So they're essentially going to put a bunch of contracts online with the information redacted, but only certain contracts. And I would challenge Eric, if they're so concerned about open government and transparency, why don't you post them on your website? Post them on the San Diego County taxpayers' website if you're so concerned about transparency.

CAVANAUGH: We have two minutes to go in this segment, so I'm going to give you each 60 seconds to tell us why should the average San Diegan care about whether prop A passes or fails? Eric?

CHRISTEN: We need greater transparency, we need contracts posted online, we need people knowing what their government is engaged in when it comes to sending out hundreds of millions of dollars a year in projects. We need workers protected from being forced to join a union, from being forced to pay into union healthcare and pension plans that they will never benefit from. We need to project unions and contractors from having all of their employees sent to a union hiring hall. And taxpayers need to be protected from the sky high costs. PLAs are a fiscal time bomb for any entity that agrees to them. That's why the majority party up in California is doing the union bidding. We're protecting the local workers and citizens. In Sacramento, big labor special interests are doing the union bosses.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. That's time. So Donna, why should the average San Diegan care whether prop A passes or fails?

FRYE: They should care because the City of San Diego has never entered into a project labor agreement. It has never been a problem. No. 2, they need to understand what the cost will be to the average person. First of all, it's going to cost -- it's estimated by the mayor, the independent budget analyst, and the city auditor, a start up cost of half a million dollars. Then $450,000 annually just to keep. It puts at risk hundreds of millions of dollars of state funding for construction projects. Whether they like it or not, that's the law, we need to live by that. And finally, it is going to open up the taxpayers' wallet for the folks who oppose these to have lawsuits that could go on for years and years and years. It doesn't -- it is not good for taxpayers, and they know it.

CAVANAUGH: That's time. I've been speaking with Donna Frye, former San Diego City Council member, opposed to prop A, Eric Christian is executive director of the coalition for fair employment in construction, supporting prop A. Thank you both very much

CHRISTEN: Thanks Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And San Diego's primary election day is June 5th.