Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story inaccurately said that the new project labor agreement would apply to the Gerald Desmond Bridge rebuilding project.

In a major victory for labor and a setback for non-union contractors, the Los Angeles Harbor Commission on Thursday unanimously approved a project labor agreement that would require contractors to use union labor on $1.5 billion in port construction projects over the next five years.

The project labor agreement requires contractors on port construction projects to hire local workers from union hiring halls and pay into a special fund to provide benefits for those workers.

Until now, project labor agreements have been negotiated on a project-by-project basis. But this agreement covers 95 percent of all construction projects undertaken by the port, including improvements to berths where ships dock and expanded rail infrastructure.

Proponents of the PLA say it will create up to 6,000 jobs for residents near the port complex.

“Today’s approval of the project labor agreement means new, career-track opportunities for thousands of local workers,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Local public agencies have increasingly turned to project labor agreements in recent years for major construction projects. In exchange for use of union labor, the construction trades promise not to strike.

The agreements have come under fire from non-union contractors and their allies. They claim they’re effectively shut out from the bidding process, thereby reducing competition and driving up costs.

Project labor agreement opponents also point to quality control problems on construction projects governed by these agreements, most recently the numerous problems uncovered during a Los Angeles Times investigation into the building program at the Los Angeles community colleges.

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