If only the issues held more interest for the public, they might stir more outrage.

What Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) and pre-apprenticeship training programs lack in eye-grabbing and ear-riveting attention, they more than make up for in unintended consequences for thousands of working Californians. If Senate Bill 825 becomes law, there will be serious consequences worth every taxpayer’s concern.

SB 825 affects not only the jobs related to the construction and maintenance of all state prisons and correctional facilities but also the aspirations of the people inside them, the people looking for a second chance at life once released.

First, SB 825 commands the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to sign a 10-year community workforce agreement (Project Labor Agreement) for all construction of $500,000 or more. PLAs are not related to ensuring quality wages because prevailing wages are already a condition of state projects. Instead, they are exclusive construction contracts between public agencies and labor unions for projects.

The exclusive nature of PLA contracts prevents local contractors and small-business owners, who already have proven track records of success building for the state, from competing fairly for future projects. This limits the number of qualified proven bidders and raises the cost of construction for us taxpayers.

Traditionally, PLAs require the use of union labor, even when the successful bidding company is non-union. So, when a non-union company is granted a contract, it’s not able to use all of its own skilled and trained journeyworkers and apprentices (including those employees formerly incarcerated, minorities, and veterans). Instead, a company must attempt to perform the work using only workers sent to it by a union hall that the company has no previous experience with.

When non-union contractors bid work, they bid based on what they know their crews can perform. Their bids are based on their crew’s talent, training, experience, commitment to quality, and track record of performing work safely and ethically.  It is wrong for the state to mandate contractors to have their skilled, trained, and certified workers miss out on work that they have spent their careers performing, by forcing the contractor to use someone with a different (potentially lower) skill set or ability, or with no history with the company.

Unions represent less than 20 percent for the construction workforce. If the state needs urgent work done and union labor can’t handle it, prisoner health and well-being are imperiled because of the restrictive bidding nature of the PLA.

Second, SB 825 prohibits use of the National Center for Construction Education and Research’s (NCCER) CORE curricula, curricula that 18,000 individuals have completed in the past 10 years at one of 108 locations throughout California. The California Department of Education, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the California State University system, and the state’s community college system have all partnered with NCCER.

Instead, SB 825 would take all the quality programs with high success rates, terminate them, and turn all pre-apprentice training over to labor organizations.

Let me pause here, lest anyone think this editorial is an anti-union. My association has many union firms in it, and we support all responsible contractors’ rights to bid regardless of labor affiliation. The issue is not unions, it’s about whether or not California should be erecting barriers to 82 percent of the construction workforce in the state that has chosen to work non-union, and it’s about whether unions could handle the elimination of 170 NCCER programs in 33 of the 35 institutions run by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. In my opinion, they cannot, and society will pay a price. The vacuum SB 825 creates by eliminating NCCER programs will lead to recidivism and a return to prison for many.

Finally, SB 825 will be a financial hit to the state and taxpayers when both can ill-afford it. An analysis by the Senate Appropriations Committee warned of the “potentially significant project cost increases if CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] entering into a community workforce agreement results in few contract bids or higher associated construction costs for projects over $500,000.”

At some point, good public policy must rise above the bidding on behalf of narrow special interests. As Californians, we should be opening, not slamming, doors of employment opportunity and strive to ensure our prisons are safe, sound, secure and reducing recidivism. SB 825 does the exact opposite, which is why we hope legislators do the right thing and soundly reject it when it comes before them.