Tuesday, May 26, 2009 | The San Diego Unified school board decided Tuesday to tie work on its $2.1 billion facilities bond to a project labor agreement, a controversial step that will shape how workers and apprentices are hired to fix and renovate schools. It will require employers to provide healthcare largely through union plans, sets steep goals for local hiring, and gives apprentices from union programs the first shot at jobs to build their skills.
Project labor agreements typically involve a tit-for-tat in which the school district or other agency sets rules on bidding, such as hiring workers through the union halls, in exchange for the unions’ promise not to strike or stall work.
In the four months since the school board voted to explore such a pact over Proposition S, it exploded into a bitter dispute between construction companies and unions — two of the most muscular players in local politics — divided the citizens charged with overseeing the bond, and put the new school board majority in the crosshairs of sharp editorials, mailers and radio ads.
“I’m not going to be intimidated into not doing the right thing,” school board member Richard Barrera, who voted for the plan, said of the campaign against the labor agreement to the cheers and applause of an auditorium packed with union workers sporting orange stickers reading “Not Just a Job But a Career.” The decision passed narrowly with Barrera, John Lee Evans and Shelia Jackson in support and school board members John de Beck and Katherine Nakamura in opposition.