Trustees back organized labor

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Publicly funded projects backed by Measure Q, a bond to fund new construction at Santa Ana College, will require crews to follow union standards. The board made the decision April 1, despite public protest.

Unions will get $198 million of Measure Q money.

In a 5-2 vote April 1, the Board of Trustees moved to award a series of construction projects worth $198 million to union-only workers.

Project Labor Agreements exclude non-union construction companies from bidding on projects unless they conform to union requirements.

The dissenting trustees, Phillip Yarbrough and Arianna Barrios, say that limiting the agreement to unions only will lead to fewer bids, fewer local workers and a cost increase as much as $30 million against Measure Q funds.

“My concern is that it limits us from going out and getting the best from either side. It’s your jobs and your livelihood,” Barrios said, addressing labor representatives who came to comment on the decision. “But we are here to do the best thing for our students and those who are paying taxes.”

While non-union bids have been lower in the past, some trustees question the quality of work and high number of change-orders when a PLA is not negotiated.

“When you can’t put a roof on a maintenance building properly, you have a real problem. A couple of the projects [at Santiago Canyon College] were 100 percent over budget, and so we actually ended up paying more,” Trustee Larry Labrado said, adding that the library at SCC was built with union labor and was finished on time.

But anti-union representatives argue that the board’s decision is a gift to unions, and bars open-shop apprentices from public works projects.

“Don’t run this through to placate union special interests,” urged Eric Christen, executive director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction.

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But apprentices trained at SCC will be hired for the projects, placing an emphasis on a student workforce, Trustee John Hanna said.

Still, Yarbrough says that because more than 80 percent of construction workers are not unionized, it will decrease supply and increase costs.

“It’s a fine objective to have local hires … but as a taxpayer and someone who has been frugal, we can have these requirements without having a PLA,” Yarbrough said.

Projects funded by Measure Q will follow suit with Measure E, a $337 million bond passed in 2002 that included a PLA in the negotiations.

“There’s bad apples everywhere,” Trustee Claudia Alvarez said. “But
I’m confident we’ll have a successful work agreement with whoever gets the contract.”

Publicly funded projects backed by Measure Q, a bond to fund new construction at Santa Ana College, will require crews to follow union standards. The board made the decision April 1, despite public protest.


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