Don't Drink the Tea. Think With the WE.

What’s In the New SD Convention Center Agreement? “Good construction careers for local workers, veterans, and long-term unemployed.”

San Diego’s $520 million Convention Center expansion will hire local workers and veterans. This is a significant step forward for local construction workers that have been impacted by the downturn, with shovels in the ground expected sometime next year.

This is even more interesting, because it comes on the heels of an anti-union ballot in the city of San Diego which had prohibited the city from entering into Project Labor Agreements (PLA). These bans have been repeatedly ruled unconstitutional, most recently in Michigan, but they are intended to politically weaken workers’ rights to collective bargaining. At that time proponents of the ballot had claimed that they were only restricting the city from entering into a PLA and had no problem with private parties entering into labor agreements. In fact, they were so consumed by their fabricated messaging, they actually wrote it into their ballot measure:

“Nothing in this Ordinance shall be construed as prohibiting private parties that may perform work on Construction Projects from voluntarily entering into Project Labor Agreements or engaging in activity protected by law.” (Proposition A, June 2012 [PDF])

Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) vehemently refuted our assertion that their intent was to ban any PLA. Here is a response from ABC’s Bill Baber to a specific question:

Q: Prop. A says the city cannot mandate a project labor agreement. What if there’s a football stadium project, where a developer, for whatever reason, may want to do a PLA, and there’s public money involved?

BABER: Prop. A says the city can’t mandate it, but the law doesn’t stop private choices. It’s a restriction on city action, not on private sector actions. (UT San Diego, May 12, 2012)

ABC misrepresented to voters that it did not oppose “voluntary” PLAs. Here is an excerpt from the campaign website for Proposition A:

Q. Does Prop A restrict all PLAs?

A. No. It only restricts mandatory PLAs on city funded construction. If contractors or workers want to participate in voluntary PLAs (i.e. signed without City coercion) they are free to make that choice. (

As a result of the passage of Proposition A in June, the city of San Diego could not require a PLA in the Request for Proposals or bid documents for the Convention Center project. Nor did the city negotiate or sign a PLA. However, the general contractor (Clark-Hunt) after being awarded a Construction-Manager-At-Risk thought it prudent to enter into a PLA for the project. According to the San Diego Building Trades:

“This agreement is expected to create over 3,800 construction jobs, with healthcare, training and safety, for San Diego’s workers. This agreement benefits all qualified subcontractors and workers, whether or not they are union or non-union, and is similar to those commonly used for complex projects such as Petco Park, Otay Mesa Energy Center, Palomar Energy Center and Olivenhain Dam. These agreements bring the best value to a project, in terms of superior performance, exemplary safety record, worksite coordination and on-time schedules.” (Press Release, SD Building Trades, 11-15-2012 [PDF])

So what’s in the Project Labor Agreement? Good construction careers for local workers, veterans, and long-term unemployed. Guaranteed workforce supply and on-time performance, to minimize contractor’s time and cost risks. Minority subcontractor outreach and inclusion. All wrapped in a private agreement between private parties in a free market. As an added bonus, all labor unions, in solidarity, dropped any opposition to the Convention Center project.

A win-win-win for workers, contractors and taxpayers, that ABC is quite unhappy about. They have threatened to oppose the construction of the $520 million project, just because it has a PLA.

“They’re clearly violating the spirit of the measure and going into a town where the vast majority are non-union workers and in a county that has passed five different project labor agreement bans, including the city itself,” said Eric Christen, executive director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, whose mission is to fight project labor agreements. (UT San Diego, November 12, 2012)

Government anti-union contractor lobbyists that represent 1% of registered construction contractors are now revealing their true motives behind “Fair and Open Competition”, which is to ban any collective bargaining agreement.


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