By Chris Kramer – 2/26/2022
Residents of Seaside, California, should take notice. Seaside city council members discussed a Community Workforce Agreement (CWA) at the last city council meeting on Feb 17, 2022. If passed, this could have a large impact on residents, local employment, and taxpayers. This CWA would apply to city projects over a certain dollar amount. This amount is currently being negotiated between the city and the unions. The city proposal is for the CWA to apply to projects over $750,000. The union proposal is a $500,000 limit. Any construction companies, contractors, or other bidders on city projects above this limit would have to agree to the terms of this CWA in order to win a bid. What are these terms? A notable term is that winning bidders would be required to be union, or agree to unionize. Non-union contractors may elect to bid. However, their staff would be required to join a union if the contractor wins the bid; or the contractor would not be able to use its own workers if the CWA required hiring through the union hiring hall. Another notable term is that 25% of workers would have to be local. The quota would prioritize Seaside workers, and then workers in Monterey County, San Benito County, and Santa Cruz County. Another provision of the CWA is that it would guarantee against strikes, lockouts, or work stoppages while a project is ongoing.
By city staff’s own report, this CWA would decrease competition and could increase the cost of city projects by 5% to 20%. Other estimates say it could increase costs by as much as 30%. It would also likely mean that the city would have to hire an additional staff member to monitor the CWA provisions that could cost taxpayers $200,000 annually in combined salary and benefits. Seaside city projects often have few bidders, sometimes one bidder. And these are frequently non-union bidders. A CWA will decrease the number of bidders on a project. And union bids are often higher. And reduced competition results in higher costs. For the city, this will result in less money available for other projects when resources are already spread thin. Mayor Pro Tem Pacheco astutely pointed out that the higher costs incurred because of the CWA would work against the goal of any affordable housing projects that the city might pursue. For Seaside residents, the consequences would be higher taxes and lesser city services.
The CWA purports to be friendly to local workers, as it would require 25% of workers to be local hires. However, Eric Christen, Executive Director of Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, said that the term “local hires” is a subjective term that unions are using to refer to people living in the tri-county area. Mr. Christen stated that this is language that CWA proponents use to make CWAs seem more palatable. And since it would require workers to be union members to work on Seaside projects, this CWA would actually have consequences contrary to stated intentions. According to Mr. Christen, 90% of the local construction workforce is non-union. So this CWA would actually prevent much of the local workforce from working on Seaside projects. This is discriminatory against local Seaside workers. Mr. Christen asks, “What are the local hire numbers on existing projects? Is this a solution in search of a problem? Residents should oppose this bigotry because forcing people to join a private entity as a condition of employment is immoral. PLAs reduce bidders (almost all bidders on Seaside projects are non-union) and increase costs 5-30%.” Mr. Christen addressed the city council during public comment with these comments, “What is the problem that this discriminatory agreement seeks to remedy? What are your current local hire numbers that this PLA seeks to remedy? In the tri-county area, we see no evidence that this would help at all. And in fact, evidence to the contrary that it would hurt.”
The provision that would guarantee against strikes and lockouts may be understandably appealing to city council members and staff. It could be conducive to long-term project stability by preventing costly shutdowns caused by labor disputes. But is this a problem that has demonstrated a need for a fix? If so, it was not a problem that was pointed out in the city council meeting. This CWA is a high price for residents to pay, too high, even if this problem exists. But it is an unacceptable price for residents to pay if city council cannot demonstrate that work stoppages have been an issue for the city.
The Government Affairs Liaison for the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, in public comment, said, “This is going to change things. You are going to lose bidders. I looked at all of those bidders for the past few years, I saw on your website, you had plenty of Chamber contractors there and lots of them were local. There is just no reason for this.” He went on to say, “But the Chamber of Commerce opposes this. It’s not necessary. You’ve got great projects going on. They’re getting done well by local contractors. There’s no reason for this fundamental change in bidding procedures right now.”
Don Chapin is a general engineering contractor headquartered in Salinas, who employees about 350 local employees that live and work in this community. In public comment, Mr. Chapin said, “What’s wrong with a fair and balanced system you currently employ, that’s competitive, and allows the selection of the lowest qualified contractor, no matter what their union status is?… I want you to know that 87% of the trades people in this community are non-union. Only 13% belong to unions locally… When was the last time you had a public works project delayed that a PLA would have cured?….. We can deliver to you, not 25%, not 50%, but 100% local employees to your construction projects… The proposal will do a couple of things. It will stymie competition. It will eliminate bidders. It will cost your city’s taxpayers thousands of dollars more if not millions… Please don’t tell me and my employees that we can’t work for the City of Seaside.”
Mike Avila, with Avila Construction, had this to say in public comment, “I want to point out that the lions share of subcontractors in the Monterey Bay area are open shop. I think the statistic is correct that 85% of the workforce in Monterey County in the construction trades are open shop employees. And if you want locals to work here you need to maintain the open shop participation. This agreement does not do that. In no way does it do that. It specifically excludes all those open shop folks. So you’re excluding 85% of the workforce, the construction workforce on any vertical construction.”
Some members of the public questioned not only the merits of the CWA, but also the legality and authority for such an agreement. Public comments questioned whether the city is in violation of the Brown Act and/or the National Labor Relations Act. Mr. Christen said, “When was this PLA approved to be negotiated? We’ve been involved with every step of this process. There was never negotiation allowed by the city council for staff to go forward with PLA negotiation. At all. Check your minutes. That’s a Brown Act violation. The National Labor Relations Act has clearly been violated by this project labor agreement and the way that it was brought about. That is something that you need to consider the legal aspects of that.” The Government Affairs Liaison for the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce echoed this sentiment, saying, “I’ll also point out one thing. I spoke at that study session in September of 2020. And it says here in the minutes:
‘The council discussed the purpose and benefits of this type of agreement as well as some impacts. There was no action taken on the item.’
He went on to say, “That was a study session item. I think that the interpretation that that was a directive to negotiate is incorrect. I think that would be a Brown Act violation. You know what, you may want to take a look at that sort of thing.” The VP of Government and Community Affairs for Associated Builders and Contractors, Northern California Chapter, also spoke out against the CWA, and in public comment added, “I know that I was involved with this process. I was part of that first study session meeting. And I spoke. And I recall, I went back to my records from that meeting. And there was no action taken at that meeting. So I don’t understand, you know, how it was initiated to have these meetings with the unions. There was no vote or direction to negotiate.”
So what was the city council’s decision? Well, for the moment it is on hold. City council passed a motion for continuation and directed the City Attorney to do a legal analysis. The City Attorney stated that she would like the opportunity to give the legal aspects of such an agreement some serious attention and brief them with city council in closed session. But this CWA will come before the Seaside City Council again.
Many local employers and local employees stood up for public comment in opposition to this CWA. It would prevent locals from working for the City of Seaside. The message is loud and clear. This agreement would be bad for local workers. If you don’t want to pay HIGHER TAXES and want to support LOCAL WORKERS, then you should be concerned. This CWA benefits unions, but not residents, taxpayers, or local workers. The illustration that follows is a slide from the report presented to Seaside City Council by city staff. Contact the mayor and city council members and voice your opinion.
Mayor Ian Oglesby: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mayor Pro Tem Dave Pacheco: email@example.com
Council Member Jon Wizard: firstname.lastname@example.org
Council Member Alexis Garcia Arrazola: email@example.com
Council Member Jason Campbell: firstname.lastname@example.org