The Chula Vista Elementary School District quietly approved the negotiation of a project labor agreement for future uses of $90 million in voter-approved bond money, as well as mello-roos funds, last Wednesday.
A project labor agreement (PLA) is a pre-negotiated, collective bargaining contract that sets uniform rules about pay and health care, typically for a specific project. It often requires construction contractors to sign union agreements as a condition of work.
Wednesday’s action requires those labor agreements for all future bond money expenditures, including $14 million issued in February for the modernization of three school sites: Ella B. Allen, Hilltop Drive and Vista Square Elementary Schools.
The item, which was originally included in a lengthy consent calendar, passed 4-1 with trustee Marissa Bejarano opposed. It was pulled off the consent calendar after several requests for discussion from the public.
School district spokesman Anthony Millican said the item was modified after considerable public comment on both sides. That modification included the addition of mello-roos funds, which are locally controlled special property taxes, to the mandatory project labor agreement.
The $90 million in general obligation bonds were approved by voters in November 2012 to provide funds to renovate and modernize facilities and improve technology at 31 of the school district’s oldest schools.
The bond measure passed with support of the San Diego County Taxpayer’s Association, an organization that advocates for fiscal responsibility within public agencies, with the caveat that the school district would not employ a mandatory PLA for the awarding of those contracts.
Reached by phone Monday evening, the San Diego County Taxpayer’s Association Mark Leslie called the board’s actions Wednesday “an inappropriate overreach.”
“It’s creating an uneven playing field that does not assure the best value for the dollar,” Leslie said.
According to the agenda item, the board approved the district to negotiate the PLA specifically with the San Diego Building and Construction Trades council and related unions.
Tom Lemmon, business manager of the SD Building and Construction Trades, said he doesn’t understand why the taxpayer group would be upset.
“When you think about it, all a project labor agreement is, is a delivery method for on-time, on-budget projects,” Lemmon said. “And it creates local hire for the community so that the people who are actually paying the bond will get to work on the project.”
In 2010, 56 percent of Chula Vista voters approved a city-wide ban on project labor agreements for public dollars. The Chula Vista Elementary School District is a separate municipality located within the same area.
Gov. Jerry Brown subsequently signed into law a 2011 bill that overturns locally-imposed blanket bans on the union-friendly pacts by cutting state funding for specific projects in municipalities that have imposed bans.