Wednesday, May 6, 2009 | Billboards and protests are roaring back and forth on a controversial project labor agreement for building and renovating San Diego Unified schools. But while unions and the school district hash out the plan behind closed doors, millions of dollars of work is already up for grabs on the $2.1 billion facilities bond, minus any restrictions from a labor agreement.
School district officials and board members say that the projects, which include artificial fields and new classrooms, were too important to wait on the labor pact. Some have already been awarded to the lowest bidder; others are slated to get the green light from the school board later this month.
And in an interesting twist of timing, the unfettered projects are being snapped up by non-unionized companies, many of which are uneasy about the planned labor agreement. One builder even said she will forgo future work if the agreement goes forward. Her Bonita-based company was the lowest bidder to revamp a San Diego High school building with a new student television station.
“I’ll be going someplace else,” said Christina Gomez Holben, president of St. Thomas Enterprises, Inc. and a board member for the local chapter of the Associated General Contractors. “I would not work under a PLA.”
Opponents of the labor agreements contend that other builders and renovators that are not unionized will avoid bidding on the work as well, pushing costs upward as bids dwindle. Supporters tout benefits such as being able to hire local workers and insist on healthcare. They challenge the claim that companies will really eschew millions of dollars in construction work in a grim market.
But when it comes to how PLAs affect the bottom line, both sides can muster stacks of studies. It is tricky to suss out whether the agreements cost or save money because there are no laboratories to compare what the exact same project at the exact same time would cost with or without an agreement.