All Qualified Construction Workers Should Help Rebuild California

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

California needs all hands on deck to help rebuild the state with an immediate need for affordable housing and recovery from the destruction of recent wildfires. While some legislation introduced in Sacramento opens an opportunity for all experienced construction workers to help rebuild California, why do other bills place barriers to rebuilding the state before more than 80 percent of the trained construction work force in California? 

Let me explain.

Some legislation sets requirements that give union construction teams a leg up in bidding contracts for public work projects. Such requirements are a disadvantage for the more than 80 percent of the well trained, experienced construction workers in this state who are attached to firms that are not participants in collective bargaining agreements. In most cases, local, minority and women-owned construction employers and their employees are shut out from helping rebuild their communities.

To be clear, that is not always the case. Take SB 5 by Senator Jim Beall. The bill creates a funding mechanism to help build needed affordable housing more quickly. Senator Beall believes this bill will create 86,000 new and rehabilitated housing units and 329,000 jobs over ten years. That’s all good for California, which is so desperate for new, affordable housing. 

The key is there are no restrictions on companies bidding for the jobs. That allows all California construction workers an even chance to get the work. That’s all we ask. We respect and are pleased to work side-by-side with union labor. In addition, the open competition provided by an unrestricted, competitive bidding process means costs are reduced for the taxpayers funding the projects and gives local workers a chance to compete.

SB 25 (Caballero) is another matter. The bill’s goal is an admirable one. SB 25 will end abuse of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by limiting strategies employed to delay or kill housing developments by the filing of unending lawsuits. Bravo! That is needed to get on with rebuilding the state. 

However, the bill comes with qualifiers for those construction firms that want to participate in the rebuilding projects. The bill advantages union contractors by encouraging a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) which presumes compliance with the skilled and trained workforce requirement needed to do the job.

Project Labor Agreements create barriers for local, minority and women-owned construction employers and their employees from participating in building their community because they contain provisions that do not allow for the complete utilization of their workforces.  

This creates a double standard – one in which some contractors are subject to the skilled and trained workforce mandate– and some are not.  

All workers, union and non-union alike, should be treated the same as to skilled workforce mandates. No contractor should get a free pass on demonstrating their commitment to a skilled and trained workforce in California.  

Likewise, AB 356 (Santiago) also presumes skilled and trained workforce compliance if a project labor agreement is in force. The bill opens a pilot program for the Los Angeles Community College district to use a best value procurement method for bid evaluations for this public project. The best value may lie with non-union, but well trained and experienced contractors are effectively shut out because they can’t use their workforce under a PLA.

The situation of discouraging the state’s experienced construction companies from bidding on projects usually costs taxpayers by adding increased project costs of 10 to 20 percent.

Here’s a clear example of such a circumstance.

The City of Selma in Fresno County needed to build a new police station. But before the bid proposal was prepared the local trade unions insisted on a Project Labor Agreement meaning union construction companies would have an advantage in the bidding process.  After the project bid and received only one bid well over the construction budget, the local contracting community made numerous requests to the city to modify the Project Labor Agreement so they would have an equal shot for the work, but these requests were rejected by the construction unions. The project bid for a second time again to receive only one bidder. The bid exceeded the money available for the project by well over two million dollars. The City Council had to dip into the city’s precious ambulance fund to cover the shortfall!

California needs all well-trained contractors and their workers, residents of the state, to have an equal opportunity to help rebuild California. In that way, more competition for the jobs will save tax dollars and allow monies set aside for housing and infrastructure projects to go further.

Hopefully, the legislature in its quest to meet the challenges facing the state will embrace all our state’s construction workers when deciding on important legislation to help the state rebuild.

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