Water authority signs new union labor requirement – Voice of San Diego

Artwork by Adriana Heldiz

Jhe San Diego-area drinking water wholesaler recently passed a rule ensuring most of its infrastructure projects are built under union-friendly labor agreements, provided a majority of the board administration agrees.

That seems likely since a majority of the San Diego County Water Authority’s board voted in favor of the change at its January meeting. It also means that nearly all waterworks contracts the Water Authority touches will be subject to negotiations with unions, which some contractors and board members say will add time and cost. , even if water tariffs continue to soar.

Since 2005, the San Diego County Water Authority had operated under rules that required the board to vote on whether to enter into a project work agreement for any project worth $100 million or more. These agreements, known as PLAs, usually mean that unions guarantee a project will have workers – and they won’t strike – but in exchange all workers have to go through union halls with fees and benefits. additional potential.

But at its January 27 meeting, a majority of the Water Authority’s board agreed to lower that threshold to any project over $1 million. For an agency that builds and maintains large and expensive regional water systems, dams and reservoirs, this means that almost every project undertaken by the Water Authority would be subject to review by a PLA.

The Water Authority has many big contracts coming up, including a $1.5 billion hydroelectric project at the San Vicente Reservoir and, potentially, a $5 billion project. pipeline parallel to the Colorado River to reduce San Diego’s dependence on Los Angeles for its main source of drinking water.

Dozens of workers and local union representatives expressed their support for the decision at the January meeting, while organizations representing non-unionized workers denounced it.

PLAs “enable public agencies to enable local hiring and help efficiently manage complex construction projects,” said Carol Kim, business manager for the San Diego Building Trades Council. “They make sure workers are trained, qualified and skilled and can set targets for hiring local workers.”

Eddie Sprecco, CEO of the San Diego chapter of Associated General Contractors, which also represents non-union labor, argued that PLAs mean fewer contractors would be eligible to bid on these projects. at a higher cost to the taxpayer.

“The last thing I would recommend is a wall-to-wall PLA on your projects because that raises prices by 20% and shuts out a lot of your local contractors and workers,” Sprecco said.

Nick Serrano, a City of San Diego representative on the Water Authority’s board of directors and deputy chief of staff to Mayor Todd Gloria, led the charge for PLA as a spokesperson for a subcommittee distinct that the Water Authority created in 2021 to study the advisability of creating such a reign.

Serrano pointed out that other San Diego agencies are adopting similar requirements, such as the San Diego Association of Governments which voted in July 2021 to bargain with unions on a multibillion-dollar transit and highway system overhaul, according to the Union-Tribune. He said this type of PLA requirement is “necessary to ensure the agency has the ability to continue to compete for and secure state and federal funding for water projects,” later noting recent actions taken by President Joe Biden who recently signed an executive order requiring PLAs on certain federal projects over $35 million, according to FOX Business reports.

The California legislature has sought in recent years to require cities to adopt PLAs as a condition for receiving state funds, including a 2019 bill Gloria championed when he was in assembly, requiring PLA on state-funded construction related to one of the city’s largest and most important water projects, known as Pure Water.

“It’s in the best interest of our taxpayers to do our best and…be proactive in having a policy like this on our books, ready to go, so we can stay competitive for those dollars,” Serrano said during the meeting.

A contingent of the Water Authority’s board of directors, usually representing more rural, conservative towns like Carlsbad, Helix, Poway and Ramona, voted against the rule change.

Carlsbad Republican Mayor and Board Director Matt Hall called for further study into what it will cost the Water Authority in time and staff to negotiate the labor agreements of the project.

“In fairness to everyone involved, the most important being the taxpayer after spending a year talking about tariffs, what the impacts of some of these things may be,” Hall said.

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