Senate Bill 825 Will Exacerbate Construction Crisis

Michele Daugherty
President and CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Northern California

As a woman that began her career in the trades, I want to formally applaud Assemblywoman Catharine Baker for her resolution, Assembly Concurrent Resolution 182, commemorating Women in Construction Week which passed its first roll-call vote, 69-0, within minutes of her finishing her presentation. I proudly observed it happening from the balcony of the Assembly Chamber. Unfortunately, that optimistic feeling did not stay with me for very long.

That’s because once again there is a bill before the Senate, SB 825, that could make it harder for women to choose a career in construction—and it looks as if that barrier to construction jobs will only get deeper, higher, and thicker if passed. The bill would require the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to sign a 10-year ‘Community Workforce Agreement’ (Project Labor Agreement (PLA)) with the State Building and Construction Trades Council, a coalition of 28 affiliated unions representing workers in various construction trades, for all construction of $500,000 or more. 

PLAs, also known as community workforce agreements, are agreements between a local government or agency and labor organizations, and they generally set out exclusionary rules and requirements that the work project will follow. Traditionally, they require the use of union labor, even if the successful bidding company is non-union. So, when a non-union company is granted the contract, they must perform the work using union workers rather than their own skilled and trained employees. This forces some companies to lay off trained, proven, loyal productive workers and hire strangers sent by the union hall with no proof of their work history, experience and credentials. In 2011, in Governor Brown’s signed message for Senate Bill 922, a bill to prohibit bans on Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), he said the bill does not require local governments to adopt a PLA, and the bill preserves the right of all sides to debate what obviously is a hotly-contested issue. Seems fair to me – even democratic. So, why is the state making an attempt to mandate a PLA on all prison construction work?

Important to note that more than 80 percent of construction jobs in California are provided by contractors not signatory to a collective bargaining agreement. Furthermore, studies show PLAs increase project costs anywhere from 10-30 percent because they restrict competition. For the sake of public safety, let’s not build four prisons for the price of five. Open competition is healthy and increases quality. It levels the playing field for women, minorities, and veterans, be they small-business owners or employees.

An additional drawback to SB 825 is the continued monopolization of pre-apprentice training curricula. Senate Bill 825 is a proposal my association, the Associated Builders and Contractors Northern California Chapter (ABC NorCal), could support in principle (the critical training of inmates for a life after jail) were it not for the Project Labor Agreement and the insidious insertion of a clause banning our nationally accredited pre-apprentice training curricula, and those of others, in favor of union-only training curricula.

Although the goal of providing Career Technical Education (CTE) to prison inmates is laudable, and CTE has proven to reduce recidivism, SB 825 strongly discourages non-union contractors from bidding on prison projects, thereby significantly reducing the work opportunities for previously incarcerated individuals that wish to work non-union.

Assemblywoman Baker was on target when she said, “California’s construction industry, right now, has a tremendous need for skilled and motivated workers, managers, and entrepreneurs, and women excel at all these roles … Apprenticeship is a critical pathway for women to fully participate and equally in California’s growing economy.”

Consider:

  • Only 17.9 percent of construction workers in California are union members, according to unionstats.com. When asked, the majority, eight out of 10, choose to work for nonunion construction companies.
  • Anirban Basu, chief economist for Associated Builders and Contractors estimates the construction industry is need of 500,000 workers. According to the Construction Labor Market Analyzer, the California Craft Professional Demand through August 2019 is 387,316 workers.

California simply cannot afford to do business the “PLA” way. We must give ALL responsible contractors and their employees the opportunity to work on taxpayer-funded projects (which already mandates prevailing wages) regardless of union or non-union affiliation, and legislative attacks on qualified and proven nonunion pre-apprentice curricula must stop.

Please note, I am not stating there is anything wrong with union labor or its pre-apprenticeship curricula, and there’s nothing wrong with ours, either. There’s enough construction business for all responsible contractors, without anyone having to game the system in one group’s favor. There is a critical workforce shortage, and we need all avenues open to train our workforce of tomorrow today.

ABC NorCal and our 500 members and 15,000+ workers have a proven track-record of training and building California and we want the opportunity to be part of bettering the communities in which we live, continuing to be part of the workforce training solution and continuing to build in our communities.

Senate Bill 825 comes up for a vote soon. We’ll see if California’s policymakers do what is truly in the best interest of California.

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