Construction Fatalities and Protest by Minority Contracting Community Plague New 49ers Stadium Project

2 October 15, 2013  Featured, State & Local Construction

Construction of the San Francisco 49ers’ $1.2 billion Levi’s stadium, subject to a controversial government-mandated project labor agreement (PLA), has been plagued by two fatal jobsite accidents and a protest by a coalition of community groups and activists outraged by the lack of construction contracts awarded to minority businesses.

49ers stadium hard hat

PLA advocates claim anti-competitive and costly PLA schemes promote safe jobsites and increase inclusion of minority contractors and minority construction workers from the local community.

Obviously, this PLA is not delivering on its promises.

Yesterday, a worker from Vacaville, Calif.–nearly 85 miles away from the Santa Clara jobsite–employed by Napa Reinforcing Steel was tragically killed while unloading a load of rebar, according to the San Francisco Chronicle (Worker killed at 49ers stadium site in Santa Clara,” 10/14/13).

In June, stadium construction was halted after an accident killed a unionized elevator mechanic from Sacramento (nearly 118 miles, or a two-hour commute, from the stadium).

In September, a coalition of minority business groups and activists organized a protest at the 49ers’ home opener at Candlestick Park, according to an Oct. 5, 2013, article in The San Francisco Bay View:

 [The protest was organized] “…in response to practices permitted by the San Francisco 49ers and the Santa Clara Stadium Authority and executed by Turner Construction and its joint venture partner Devcon Construction, to intentionally and  systematically exclude Black and minority contractors from participation on the $1.3 billion Levi’s Stadium project. [snip]

While the combined efforts of the [protesting] organizations have led to the award of over $25 million in contracts to Black and minority firms in recent months, the $25 million represents only 1.6 percent of the construction budget for the stadium project.

Construction on Levi’s Stadium began about one and a half years ago and until the National Sports Authority entered the picture, a process reminiscent of the proverbial “good old boys” network was being employed by the 49ers and their development team to prevent Black and minority contractor and professional services providers from participating on the project.”

Candlestick Protest

A minority community activist protests the  lack of contracts for minority firms on the 49ers stadium.

The stadium’s general contractor, Turner-Devcon, is building the stadium under a PLA with the Building and Construction Trades Councils of Santa Clara County and its Affiliates, as required by the Santa Clara Stadium Authority (the owner) and the Forty-Niners Stadium, LLC (the construction agent), according to this procurement document governing stadium construction:

49ers PLA requirement


Sign outside 49ers stadium. Photo courtesy of

PLAs typically force contractors to hire most or all of their craft professionals from union hiring halls; follow inefficient union work rules; hire apprentices exclusively from union apprenticeship programs; and pay  into union benefit plans on behalf of employees, even if they have their own qualified benefit programs. PLAs force employees to pay union dues, accept unwanted union representation, and forfeit benefits earned during the life of a PLA project unless they join a union and become vested in union benefit plans.

In short, PLAs discourage or eliminate merit shop contractors from competing for and winning contracts on construction projects because they are almost always awarded exclusively to unionized contractors and their all-union workforces.  Research has found reduced competition and archaic and inefficient union rules increase the cost of construction projects subject to PLAs between 12 percent and 18 percent, on average.

The PLA Safety Myth Busted
PLA advocates–predominantly unionized contractors, construction trade union officials and their members benefiting from job creation via PLAs–claim these monopolistic union-friendly schemes ensure a safe jobsite. By forcing contractors to hire construction workers dispatched through union hiring halls as a condition of winning a contract to perform work on a PLA project, special interests argue PLA projects are safer because they are built with union labor.

In reality, there is no compelling or conclusive private or government evidence to support the myth that an all-union workforce, and/or a workforce operating under a PLA, will have a better safety outcome or higher rate of compliance with federal safety laws and regulations than jobsites not subject to a PLA.

The multiple fatalities on this stadium illustrate construction is a dangerous industry regardless of whether a worker belongs to a union or if a PLA is used on a project. All firms need to make jobsite safety a priority.

PLAs Discriminate Against Minority Firms and Fail at Local Hiring
PLA advocates also claim PLAs are a tool public officials can use to ensure jobs for the local construction workforce and inclusion of minority and small business contractors on a large-scale project supported by taxpayer dollars.

However, the public record of poor performance of PLAs demonstrates promises of local hiring and minority inclusion are not consistently met, which is not surprising, especially when more than eight out of 10 California and U.S. construction workers are not unionized and the vast majority of minority contractors are not unionized.

It’s time for taxpayers to demand accountability from special interests and lawmakers benefitting from anti-competitive and costly PLAs.

We will be watching this project closely.

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2 Responses to Construction Fatalities and Protest by Minority Contracting Community Plague New 49ers Stadium Project

Roger Clegg, Ctr for Equal Opportunity October 15, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Why do race, ethnicity, and sex need to be considered at all in deciding who gets awarded a contract? It’s good to make sure contracting programs are open to all, that bidding opportunities are widely publicized beforehand, and that no one gets discriminated against because of skin color, national origin, or sex. But that means no preferences because of skin color, etc. either–whether it’s labeled a “set-aside,” a “quota,” or a “goal,” since they all end up amounting to the same thing. Such discrimination is unfair and divisive; it breeds corruption and otherwise costs the taxpayers and businesses money to award a contract to someone other than the lowest bidder; and it’s almost always illegal—indeed, unconstitutional—to boot (see 42 U.S.C. section 1981 and this model brief: ). Those who insist on engaging in such discrimination deserve to be sued, and they will lose.

Ben Brubeck October 17, 2013 at 2:58 pm

That’s a fair question. It is important to lawmakers who spend taxpayer dollars on construction projects. They care because their constituents care and want to work on these projects. In addition, federal, state and local governments have passed laws to make sure businesses owned by these groups are awarded a percentage of contracts and the workforce of these groups are employed on publicly funded construction contracts.

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