The future is uncertain for a controversial Santa Fe City ordinance that mandates the use of community workforce agreements (CWAs) on all city projects costing more than $500,000. As city leaders learn more about what this requirement really means for the local contracting community and their workers, they are reconsidering its benefits.
The CWA ordinance was adopted by the Santa Fe City Council in February of this year, but the controversy surrounding it led city leaders to hold a hearing on Oct. 2 where local contractors expressed numerous concerns. Here are the highlights from the hearing as reported by the Santa Fe New Mexican, with our emphasis added to key elements:
The ordinance calls for contractors doing city capital projects [worth] more than $500,000 to use union hiring halls for most of their workers. Among other provisions, hiring halls have to agree to “strive” for local workers to comprise at least 50 percent of the workforce, and workers have to join the union at least for the duration of the city job. Contractors are permitted to hire up to 20 of their “regular employee workforce,” but the hiring hall will have say over all other workers.
Other contractors said the agreement didn’t benefit the community and should be repealed — a stance shared by the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce and the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association. Among them were local builder Rick Borrego, who said the agreement was a “set-aside” for union contractors, and Roddy Leeder, who runs R.L. Leeder Inc., who said he’s already had to lay off workers, and the new ordinance is likely to make that situation worse.
“How could it be in the best interest of the city to lay off our people and join the union?” Leeder said.
Even city councilors who voted for the ordinance change in February are questioning its appropriateness. Councilor Ron Trujillo said he’s heard from both union and nonunion workers and contractors this summer and that he now has concerns about small local contractors being unable to get in on city work. “I want to make sure everybody in this community has an equal opportunity to bid on any job no matter what it is,” he said, adding later, “There are some people who don’t want to join a union.”
Councilor Rebecca Wurzburger said the City Council didn’t get a clear message early on that hiring halls aren’t obliged to hire a majority of workers in Santa Fe but only have to “strive” for that. City Attorney Geno Zamora said the city is prohibited by federal law from establishing a required percentage of local workers.
Other councilors also have expressed doubts about whether this policy makes sense for Santa Fe. The New Mexico Business Weekly reported that Councilor Patti Bushee plans to introduce a measure to postpone implementation of the CWA ordinance until the council can get an economic feasibility study done by the University of New Mexico.
Here at TheTruthAboutPLAs.com, we think asking the university to do a feasibility study is unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer money. There already exists a robust digest of academic research that clearly demonstrates the negative impact of PLA/CWA mandates on taxpayer-funded construction projects. (For Santa Fe residents, I would recommend this and this.)
In addition, several news outlets, including The Albuquerque Journal, have reported: “A staffer in the city’s economic development office has estimated the CWA requirements will add $5 million to city building costs over three to five years because of a dearth of union contractors to bid on projects.”
In other words, the Santa Fe City Council’s own staff knows this requirement will unnecessarily increase construction costs for taxpayers because it will restrict the ability of current city contractors to compete for future construction projects.
After discovering that a majority of city councilors have expressed concerns about this ordinance (see here, here and here) and learning city staffers say it will dramatically increase construction costs, one has to wonder why Mayor David Coss is so determined to protect it.
Santa Fe residents may remember that the mayor was a candidate for the state legislature earlier this year before losing in the June 6 Democratic primary to Los Alamos National Laboratory worker Carl Trujillo. During that campaign, Coss collected $10,947 in campaign contributions from organized labor – all of which was contributed after the CWA requirement was adopted and more than half of which came from construction trade unions. By the time it was all said and done, one out of every six donations to the Coss campaign came from Big Labor. (The relevant campaign finance reports downloaded from the New Mexico Campaign Finance Information System are available here and here.)
Considering the limited history of PLA/CWA activity in New Mexico, the timing of this ordinance seems suspect and certainly gives Santa Fe residents the right to question the mayor’s motives.
Big Labor’s attempt to enact a CWA requirement in Santa Fe has created unnecessary controversy. The local procurement system in Santa Fe was working fine for all city workers, both union and nonunion. There is no question this CWA requirement is an attempt to limit the ability of the vast majority of New Mexico’s construction workers to compete for projects funded by their own tax dollars in order to favor Big Labor. And to pay for this discrimination, Santa Fe residents not working in the construction industry will get the unenviable opportunity to pay an additional $5 million in city construction costs.
The CWA is a bad deal for everyone except Big Labor. Santa Fe residents should contact their councilors and tell them to repeal the community workforce agreement ordinance.