By DAIN PARRY
As the general superintendent at a major contracting firm that does commercial construction business with the city, I believe Project Labor Agreements are good.
Put simply, PLAs require contractors to hire union workers in exchange for guaranteed labor peace, and they are typically negotiated on a project-by-project basis. Alternatively, a policy currently under consideration by L.A.'s Community Redevelopment Agency would create a template agreement that would apply to certain CRA projects, and thus, eliminate the scattershot, project-by-project rigmarole that prevails today.
The effect of guaranteeing labor peace on a project should not be disregarded. First, labor peace means projects are completed on time and, most often, within budget. This has been shown to be true in citywide PLAs across the country, as well as with project-based and agency-based PLAs in Los Angeles (such as those with projects involving the Los Angeles Police Department).
Second, PLAs ensure that union workers are on the job and, like it or not, union workers are better trained professionals than the alternative. Trained professionals mean projects are completed with fewer accidents or injury, which also contributes to them being completed on time. These cumulative effects make PLAs smart and, contrary to conventional wisdom, business-friendly.
That said, it is understandable even predictable that non-union or even union contractors feel frustration over the fact that we need to incorporate this contingent cost into our business. However irksome it may feel, though, it is reality and it's a reality this contractor would prefer to address proactively with an agencywide template agreement.
What's more, prevailing state wage laws require us to pay union wages on publicly subsidized projects anyway. And, in many cases, by going through the unions we're able to hire apprentices who are not yet making prevailing wage but are still union-trained. For all intents and purposes, this is a cost-saving luxury that doesn't exist outside of the world of PLAs or union hiring.
In regard to criticism by some that the policy under consideration by the CRA will require non-union contractors to contribute twice to pension plans, most of what has been reported thus far has been, frankly, misleading. As currently written, the policy being considered would allow for employers to hire five "core" employees, independent of their obligations, to hire locally and from union halls. For those "core employees," it is true: if the employer is committed to making pension contributions based on pre-existing agreements, they would in effect pay twice because they'd be required to contribute on those employees' behalf to the union pension fund. However, this would only apply to designated "core" employees and no one else. Compared to the benefits of this plan, that is a less than onerous burden, and it would only be assumed if the employer chose to hire "core" employees outside the local and union hiring parameters.
Another consideration in favor of this policy is this: In a free market system, what right do we have, as parties soliciting business, to tell customers (the city agencies, for example) what specs they should be allowed to require on outside bids? If the CRA believes that its mission is better served by ensuring that the communities it is charged to revitalize are seeing the benefits of its subsidies and by ensuring the development of good, middle-class careers in those communities then so be it. They're the customer.
Finally, the policy under consideration by the CRA, which is called the Construction Careers and Project Stabilization Policy, potentially represents a critical shift in how the benefits of commercial construction are realized in this city. Historically, particularly with CRA projects, blighted communities have not realized the full yield of the
subsidies that have been awarded to
ostensibly serve them. With this initiative, developers and contractors will continue to prosper (even if some adjustment is required), but the communities our work is meant to serve will also experience fuller value for the city's investment.
The policy is a means for addressing historical inequities while also guaranteeing a more consistent and efficient environment for the business of commercial construction. A race to the bottom perpetuated by the project-by-project, "wild west" environment we've grown accustomed to is neither community or business-friendly. Alternatively, we can all win, as contractors and as residents of this city, with a policy that ensures consistency, fairness and revitalization. Consequently, I support the policy.
Dain Parry is general superintendent of the Morrow-Meadows Corp., an electrical contracting firm based in the City of Industry.
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