Cuesta College trustees took a significant step forward Wednesday on ambitious plans to make repairs and upgrades at its two campuses, but they left undecided a larger question about whether union workers should do the work.
Trustees voted to issue up to $75 million in bonds — about 27 percent of the $275 million bond measure approved by San Luis Obispo County voters in November.
The money will pay for various repair, construction and upgrade projects at the college’s Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo campuses.
About 150 people — union and nonunion workers — showed up to debate whether Cuesta College should pursue a project labor agreement, which would stipulate that nearly all work must be done by firms that hire union workers.
College trustees did not take action Wednesday, directing staff to research the issue and return with an update at the board’s next meeting. A decision is expected by the board’s meeting in May.
“I think we all have our work cut out for us now, that’s for sure,” board President Patrick Mullen said.
Whom to hire
Late last year, the Tri-Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents 33 craft unions in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties, approached the board and asked it to consider negotiating a project labor agreement for the bond-funded projects.
Supporters said a labor agreement would provide a local, well-trained workforce that would put its earnings back into the local economy, ensure projects are completed on time and provide opportunities for apprenticeships.
“They (unions) have a long history of success in completing jobs on time, on budget,” said David Baldwin, president of the building and construction trades council who wore a sticker reading, “Support local jobs.”
Cuesta College would be required by law to pay prevailing wage, regardless of whether it signed a contract with any union.
Sherman Wong of Public Agency Law Group told the Cuesta College board that such agreements vary widely. Nonunion contractors are not excluded from bidding on projects but would be subject to the terms of the project labor agreement, Wong said in his presentation.
Opponents, meanwhile, said such an agreement would reduce the number of competitive bids submitted for a project, shut out nonunion workers and possibly raise costs.
About 90 percent of the local workforce is nonunion, said Leslie Halls, executive director of the San Luis Obispo County Builders Exchange, which represents 620 members including building contractors, subcontractors and suppliers.
“A PLA does discriminate,” said Tom Stollmeyer, president of Peak Electric in San Luis Obispo. “As a nonunion contractor, being forced to hire labor by going to a union hiring hall, I won’t do that. It doesn’t promote fair business in California.”
Also Wednesday, trustees approved a $151,350 project proposal with San Luis Obispo-based PMSM Architects to design and prepare construction documents for interim classrooms that will be used while new facilities are built on both campuses. Trustee Angela Mitchell was absent.
In addition, the same firm received a contract worth $86,150 to provide architectural services for a project to replace roofing and heating and air conditioning units in several buildings at the San Luis Obispo campus.
Design work on both projects is expected to start later this month.