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Close to Home: Project labor agreements are bad policy, costly to county

  • An opponent of Planned Labor Agreements holds up a sign during a meeting of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Aug. 18, 2012 when the board debated whether to adopt a PLA for large construction projects such as the airport expansion. In the end, no PLAs were adopted, but the proposal is coming back to the board on Tuesday. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

On Tuesday, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will once again be considering a policy to require all construction contractors to sign a project labor agreement with trade unions as a condition of working under county contracts.

On Sept. 18, 2012, the supervisors considered a similar policy that wasn't enacted. The county subsequently awarded a $22.7 million contract for the Sonoma County airport runway project without a project labor agreement. That contract award was not controversial: The board approved it unanimously, and the job was given to the lowest responsible bidder regardless of the union affiliation of any contractor or worker.

Arguments given to date in support of the proposed new project labor agreement policy for county construction contracts lack substance and are not based on factual evidence. No research is acknowledged. No data is presented. The supervisors have primarily depended on the unsubstantiated opinion and narrative of big labor special interests as a basis to justify it.

Proponents of project labor agreements have good reason to not present any reason or facts to support their case: None exists.

Facts and common sense, however, are plentiful on the side of those opposing this form of worker discrimination. Project labor agreements force workers to pay union dues and fees, pay into union pension plans and be hired through a union hiring hall as a condition of employment. PLA proponents claim this is needed to help guarantee “local hires,” yet with 80 percent-plus of the region's construction workforce union-free, that claim is baseless. In fact, a project labor agreement on county work may make it more likely that local workers will be bypassed for union workers from outside the area.

So what is the problem this solution is trying to fix? At numerous meetings with county staff, we posed the same question over and over: What problem have you experienced that this policy is looking to correct? There was no answer because there is no problem. What there is, however, is a political demand being made on supervisors who owe their political career to big labor special interests.

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