As you may recall, at its June meeting, the SRJC board of trustees authorized Dr. Frank Chong, the JC president, to open negotiations with a view to using a project labor agreement (PLA) for one or more of these projects. The next step will be for the board to vote, in about two weeks, on an actual PLA that the JC has negotiated.
As you may also recall, the vote to authorize PLA negotiations passed by a 4-3 majority. Anti-labor groups in Sonoma County are claiming that construction projects done through the PLA process will wind up costing more than they might otherwise have done. From the considerable research I have done on the matter, I am firmly convinced that this is not the case.
First of all, extensive academic research shows that PLAs wind up costing taxpayers less than the traditional approach to construction contracts. In a case study of seven projects built by the College of Marin, three with and four without PLAs, the projects completed with PLAs cost less than the engineering estimates. They also attracted a similar number of bidders as the other projects, which demonstrates that PLA opponents’ claims that PLAs discourage many firms from bidding are not borne out in practice.
If you think about it, these results stand to reason. Some people might suppose that contracts negotiated through the PLA process might be more expensive because union wages are typically higher than non-union wages. However, thanks to state law, work on all public works (i.e., government) projects in California must be compensated at “prevailing wage” rates. That’s another way of saying “union” wage rates. This is true even with contracts awarded to non-union contractors. The labor cost of PLA-negotiated projects will be the same, whether the contractor selected for the job is a union or non-union contractor.
However, PLAs not only have a history of being somewhat more economical – as this research has demonstrated – they also have the advantage of allowing such benefits to the local economy as a “local hire clause” to be negotiated up front. This ensures that the wages paid to workers on PLA jobs will stay right here in Sonoma County, strengthening our local economy. And, as I mentioned earlier, PLAs are an equal-opportunity phenomenon. Both union and non-union contractors are free to compete for the work.
So as the academic year gets into gear, so too will our efforts to revitalize SRJC’s physical plant.