The editorial board of the Riverside Press-Enterprise is correct again with their latest editorial opposing the Riverside Community College District project labor agreement (PLA) that is on tonight’s agenda (“Labor Giveaway,” 3/15/10).
The Riverside Community College District has a public duty to protect taxpayers’ $350 million investment in new facilities. That duty requires the district to seek the best deal on new construction, not give labor unions an effective monopoly on the work.
The district Board of Trustees should reject the “project labor agreement” on the agenda tonight. Instead, the district should opt for a truly competitive bidding process that seeks the best value for public construction dollars. District voters approved Measure C in 2004 to renovate aging buildings and provide room for expansion, not so that board members could hand favors to union supporters.
The agreement between the college district and labor unions would cover all construction projects of more than $1 million financed by Measure C. The pact would basically force all contractors — union and nonunion alike — to follow union rules and pay union fees and benefits. The goal is to wipe out any competitive advantage nonunion construction firms might have.
That approach serves union interests at the public’s expense. The bidding process for the jobs cannot be truly competitive when the rules are slanted to favor union companies — usually the highest-priced labor around. Why should the district want an agreement that stands to inflate the cost of new construction? Furthering a union agenda comes nowhere close to meeting trustees’ responsibility to spend tax money wisely.
The Union Membership and Coverage Database, built on federal statistics, finds that only about 18 percent of California private-sector construction workers were covered by union contracts in 2009. What sense is there in the college district excluding companies that compose four-fifths of the state’s construction labor force?
The pact says that the provisions would help avoid work stoppages or delays. But the only real threat of work stoppages comes from the unions themselves. The agreement is a promise by the unions not to cause trouble if the district plays by labor’s rules — a thinly disguised form of blackmail, not a means of public-spirited cooperation.
The agreement also proposes to encourage the use of local businesses and workers. Yet pursuing that goal hardly requires the district to approve a labor pact.
And the district’s handling of the project agreement only adds to the suspicion surrounding the document. A majority of the board voted to push ahead with the pact in December, with little time for debate or public scrutiny and no analysis of the consequences.
And now the final agreement is back before the board — and still lacks any report analyzing how much the deal might cost the public, how it might affect district construction plans or what benefits the pact could offer taxpayers. Those basic details should be at the center of the discussion. Instead, they are not available to the public before tonight’s meeting — assuming the district has even compiled such information.
Trustees would be smart to discard the labor agreement. The pact does not represent good policy or sound oversight of public money. And taxpayers should ask the crucial question about any board members who do vote for this deal: Just who are those officials representing, anyway?
TheTruthAboutPLAs.com agrees and encourage readers to reach out to the Riverside Community College District Board of Trustees at the following email addresses and tell them to protect local taxpayers and say NO to PLAs: