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SoCal School District Hopes Project Labor Agreements Will Change Course of “Shabby” Local Construction History


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The Sweetwater Union High School District is turning to Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) to change the status quo of construction quality in the region, which has been shoddy and delayed of late.  On a 4-0 vote, the five-member panel voted in favor of using PLAs for all projects funded by Proposition O.  The board’s Vice President, Nick Segura, recused himself from the vote since he is the president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569, a union whose members may be employed under prospective PLAs. Terms of the agreements are now being discussed with the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council.

The school district has not used PLAs in the past.  The resolution was brought forward by trustee Paula Hall.  During an October 12th meeting, Hall said:

“Every (board) meeting we’re hearing about something wrong with work that was done at the schools by contractors…I don’t want to do business as usual.  What I’ve got from (other) districts that are doing PLAs is that the work is being done on time…. I really want to see that we have efficiency in our construction.”

Hall added that the PLA would be good for the community: “We need skilled labor to do the work to make sure that it’s done right and I feel that this is the right way to get that done.”

Trustee Kevin Pike argued that the use of PLAs could result in better overall work:

“I’m really tired of the way the construction has been in the past.  It’s been shabby to say the least. We’re doing constant changeovers, which is costing us millions of dollars. I’m looking forward to trying something new.”

As with any idea supported by labor unions, there are opponents. Theresa Andrews, CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayer’s Association, asked the board to postpone a vote to allow for more public comment, saying:

We are very disappointed that the Sweetwater board members would direct staff to negotiate a PLA for the tail end of your first bond series sale, without properly informing the taxpayers and allowing them the opportunity to comment.”

But Tom Lemmon, Business Manager of San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council, argued that the board was plenty informed on the issue:

“I know a thing or two about project labor agreements and so does your board,” Lemmon said. “I sent several hundred pages for them to take a look at. I gave them case studies of districts who have had PLAs, had success.”

Lemmon added that the proposal is a blank slate whose details will be determined as talks with the board continue, not something completed in secrecy:

“It’s a proposal.  This wasn’t a deal that was done in the back of the street at night.”


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