Close to Home: In defense of project labor deals

  • Supporters of project labor agreements at a Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting in 2012. (KENT PORTER / The Press Democrat)

There has been a lot of talk of late about the use of project labor agreements on taxpayer-funded construction projects in Sonoma County. A project labor agreement is a market-based project management tool that has been utilized increasingly in both the public and private sectors to achieve greater jobsite efficiencies that result in on-time and on-budget construction.

For public agencies looking to invest taxpayer dollars in today's construction market, they, just like corporations in the private sector, essentially have two distinct business models from which to choose.

The first is a business model that is epitomized by the use of PLAs. It is a business model that offers increased jobsite efficiencies through a 21st century labor-management approach based upon cooperation, harmony and partnership. And it is an approach that ensures that the construction owner will have a steady, local supply of the world's safest, most highly skilled and productive skilled-craft workforce — a workforce that, in turn, receives a pay and benefits package reflective of their skill and productivity levels (which, numerous studies have shown, actually reduces costs for public agencies).

Further, the PLA model promotes the development of additional opportunities for local residents — particularly military veterans, women and minorities — to gain access to career training opportunities in the skilled trades.

In Sonoma County, union apprenticeship programs are providing career pathways to the middle class by training more than 93 percent (519) of the state- and federal-registered apprentices, covering all of the building trades with high graduation rates. The non union programs account for 7 percent (37) of the apprenticeship workforce, covering only four of the 15 building trades, with state audits revealing a pattern of poor graduation rates over many years.

This PLA model lies in stark contrast to the race-to-the-bottom business model that permeates the U.S. construction industry today and whose advocates staunchly believe that contracts in the industry ought to be awarded based primarily upon a contractor's ability to assemble the lowest-cost, oftentimes the most vulnerable and exploitable, workforce possible.

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