In their words: Victims of the SDUSD Project Labor Agreement

0 April 28, 2009  School Construction

The PLA on $2.1 billion worth of San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) construction projects funded by Proposition S is going to prevent qualified local merit shop contractors and apprentices from working on school construction paid for by their own tax dollars unless SDUSD school board members reconsider their support for this costly and discriminatory PLA.

Here are two editorials from potential PLA victims that ran in the San Diego Daily Transcript 4/27.

I Have a Choice, and I Chose Merit Shop

By RON DION, Gould Electric
San Diego Daily Transcript
Monday, April 27, 2009

My father was an electrician.

I grew up in the ’60s in a family of 11 children. My dad worked at Camp Pendleton for the Base Utilities Services. To make ends meet, he worked a lot of side jobs and he would take me with him whenever he needed an attic rat or had to get under a house with a tight crawl space. The work was hot, itchy, dirty, muddy and full of spiders, but I was young and always ready for an adventure. Plus, I was able to make a few bucks to spend.

These little excursions didn’t happen very often, but over the years I learned to appreciate the dedication it took to provide for a family. My father taught me a lot, starting with accountability for my actions. He taught me to have a healthy respect for other people’s opinions but never allow myself to be bullied or intimidated. He used to say, “If you don’t make your own decisions, someone else will make them for you,” and added that if I allowed others to make my decisions, I wouldn’t have room for complaint. Right or wrong, he said, my decisions were mine alone, and I could learn a great lesson from making a bad one.

I left home right after high school. Since holding my first job as a teenager, I’ve worn many hats for many companies — some good experiences, others not. Yet I’ve always maintained my right to decide whom to work for, and to leave a position if I felt I had made a poor choice. In 1985, I found myself applying for work as an electrician. I have been in the field ever since.

My first experience with union recruitment tactics took place early in my career. I was approached several times by IBEW recruiters — once on the job and twice at my home. I was never impressed by their approach; they worked in groups, and would attempt to slander my employer and make promises I knew they couldn’t keep.

I believe that joining a union is a personal choice, and I’ve always held that opinion. For me, any organization that has to resort to intimidation and deceit to recruit and retain its members is not an organization I choose to support.

Over my years of employment with merit shop contractors, I’ve had the pleasure of working with great people learning trade skills through ABC’s apprenticeship programs. I wish I had known about ABC when I was just starting out: top-shelf education with no false promises and no strings attached. ABC combines structured curriculum and classroom training with hands-on experience and an opportunity to earn while you learn. For those few who decide construction is not for them, they can withdraw without penalty or financial burden — owing nothing for the training they received.

Today, I manage human resources and safety for a large electrical contractor in San Diego. I’ve been here 12 years and have observed countless apprentices — both young and older men and women — work their way through four years at the ABC Training Academy, and develop into skilled and knowledgeable craftworkers. Many have gone on to take prominent positions in our company or within the ranks of our competition; some even have started their own business. I take pleasure in watching the process of this growth in our industry.

The company I work for and the companies we bid against believe that the health of this industry depends on the right to fair and open competition. We believe in employing trained, skilled craftworkers and we believe in training the next generation to take their place. We know that if we want to attract and retain these craftworkers, we must provide good benefits and a competitive wage. We understand that if we want to stay in business we must provided a safe work environment, promote safety and treat our employees with the respect they deserve. And, if we want to establish a credible reputation in our community and gain the respect of our competition, we must be fair and play by the rules.

Every year, ABC National holds a craft competition, drawing contestants from all parts of the country. The competition runs for several days and contestants are tasked with challenging projects and rigorous written exams. San Diego ABC has brought home 10 medals in the last eight competitions! In the end, win or lose, all contestants are treated with dignity and respect for having their head in the game and for putting their game on the line in open competition.

These men and women are the future of our industry. They represent 85 percent of the construction work force. They represent the ideal of fair and open competition — and are why 85 percent of the construction work force embraces the merit shop spirit and ideology.

The unions want the public to believe merit shop contractors pay minimum wage without benefits and only employ untrained itinerants who lack the skills necessary to complete a reliable product — I shake my head in disbelief every time I see it in print.Dion has been the chairman of ABC’s Electrical Apprenticeship Committee since 2005. The chapter’s first formal apprenticeship, the electrical apprenticeship program has been helping to train individuals for careers in electrical contracting for more than 20 years. ABC’s electrical apprenticeship program is approved by the state of California and the federal Department of Labor. In addition, ABC is a state-approved training provider for electrical trainee certification.

The truth is, union membership has been in steady decline for the past 50 years because unions can’t keep their promises. They can’t compete with merit shops in any arena. Even when they attempt to stack the odds in their favor through project labor agreements (PLAs), they can’t compete. They can’t compete because their members won’t compete. Their sprit of competition has been broken and there is no commitment to the health of the employer to make a profit and stay in business.

PLAs, PWAs, PSAs — a weed by any other name is still a weed and it doesn’t belong in the garden. These agreements are “pressed” into place to ensure union jobs because unions can’t compete. And, when a builder refuses a PLA, the unions threaten litigation that will tie up the project for years and absorb any of its profits. Basically, a union-only agreement merely assures the builder that they will not be harassed by the unions. With ethics like these, is it any wonder why union membership has been in decline?


San Diego Unified Set to Vote on Project Stabilization Agreement

By SHERRY J. YARBROUGH, ABC San Diego Apprenticeship Training Trust San Diego Daily Transcript Monday, April 27, 2009

The San Diego Unified School District is preparing to vote on the most controversial issue to affect public school construction in San Diego’s history. On May 26, elected school board officials will decide whether or not to adopt a union-only project stabilization agreement on the Proposition S $2.1 billion school bond.

ABC and its affiliated industry partners — those who are in favor of free and open competition and responsible fiduciary management of taxpayer dollars — are working to educate the public and the five elected school board officials on the origins of discriminatory labor agreements, and of their potential to rob 85 percent of the local qualified skilled work force of opportunities to compete for perhaps thousands of jobs Proposition S will make available.

ABC represents hundreds of construction apprentices who have chosen to enroll in a merit shop, non-union apprenticeship program — one that is both state and federally approved — and recognized as one of the best construction training programs in the country.

“Our apprenticeship program is one of the finest in the nation and I make that statement without qualification,” said Brian Lynch, an owner of Certified Air Conditioning and chairman of the ABC San Diego Training Trust. “The ABC San Diego Training Academy programs are formally approved by state and federal officials who recognize both the quality of instruction and the long-term career opportunities available to those skilled craftworkers who train through ABC.”

All bona fide apprenticeship programs, union and non-union, must meet the same strict criteria established by state and federal governments. ABC San Diego’s program has been named an “exemplary” program by the California Division of Apprenticeship Standards. (See “Apprenticeship: Opportunity of many lifetimes.”)

Yet, at a January school board meeting, three of the five school board members called for the destruction of the rights of these apprentices to work on San Diego Unified School District projects under the Proposition S bonds.

This outrageous discrimination happened with the 11th hour, backdoor insertion of language into a proposal for a project stabilization agreement (PSA) that would recognize only union apprenticeship programs. Too bad for those apprentices enrolled in non-union apprenticeship programs. Apparently, according to SDUSD officials Shelia Jackson, Richard Barrera and John Lee Evans, they are good enough to pay for the bonds, but not good enough to benefit from working on the projects.

These are highly skilled, hard-working, tax-paying members of the San Diego construction community — future leaders of our community — who, if Jackson, Barrera and Evans maintain their position, will be excluded from working on the schools in their own back yards and paid for by their tax dollars.

“I’m appalled that elected government officials at any level would knowingly consider adopting such a policy,” Lynch said. “What can these elected school officials be thinking? How can they make decisions between equally skilled craftspeople simply because they chose to not join a union?”

Board members Katherine Nakamura and John de Beck argued against rushing into a PSA resolution being literally re-written throughout the meeting. De Beck affirmed he was “engaging in political suicide” with his union supporters but felt he was doing the right thing for the district in opposing the resolution. Nakamura was literally surrounded and verbally attacked by union members for speaking against the resolution. In Nakamura’s words, “This feels wrong. This feels invasive. It feels like we have pirates on our super-tanker climbing over the decks.”

Of course, the burning question that all taxpayers in the San Diego Unified School District should be asking themselves is this: How did the construction unions get this much influence in driving the school board’s actions — discriminatory actions that are a waste of precious bond money, and that will effectively reduce the construction dollars available to build projects important to the public education of children throughout San Diego? (See “Project labor agreements: Cutting competition and raising costs.”)

San Diego ABC has been involved in apprenticeship training for more than 20 years. Our members have invested millions of dollars in state-of-the art training. ABC instructors are skilled professionals — many are graduates of our apprenticeship program and leaders in the construction community. Our graduates represent some of the finest skilled craftworkers in the nation. (See “San Diego wins in Honolulu.”)

Our apprentice wages and benefits match or exceed those of the union; and no union dues are extracted. And, ABC apprentices receive college credit through the San Diego Community College District as they complete their technical classroom training — with many going on to further their education as degreed college graduates. (See “Building construction careers on a college foundation.”)

School board members who are pushing this PSA (union) agreement purport that it will ensure school construction is completed by a skilled, local work force. Excluding the majority of state-approved local apprenticeship programs from participation will do just the opposite.

Nearly half of the San Diego ABC apprentices live in the district and/or graduated from a SDUSD high school. Can you get more local than that? These arguments don’t hold up.

Bottom line: This has nothing to do with skill, pay, safety, benefits or local workers. This is about a union monopoly on $2.1 billion of public construction work. It’s about seeing that only those few who pay into union coffers get to work on the projects.Yarbrough is executive director of the ABC San Diego Apprenticeship Training Trust.

Ironically, the official SDUSD mission statement is to graduate students “to succeed in their choice of college and career in order to lead and participate in the society of tomorrow.” The board majority, through this resolution, will exclude a group of student apprentices who are attempting to do just that. Many of these students are from their district and continue to pay taxes to help improve it.

Apprentices from all state-approved construction programs — those equally trained, equally qualified and equally compensated — deserve the equal opportunity and equal right to compete for and work on these school projects. Jackson and Barrera have visited ABC and other non-union facilities, have talked with apprentices and employers, and have seen first-hand the type of quality training delivered by merit shop programs. Now it’s time for them to do the right thing and reverse this discriminatory resolution before it’s adopted at the public school board meeting on May 26.

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