Like most residents and taxpayers, I think the San Luis Obispo City Council should be seeding our public tax dollars in ways that grow private jobs for people living right here in town. Why shouldn’t people living here be the folks who get the work building our town’s streets, water systems and city buildings? Shouldn’t our town’s stores, shops, restaurants, barbers and hairdressers benefit from having more local customers? Wouldn’t this mean local residents could better afford the high price of a modest home in San Luis Obispo?
Our City Council repeatedly issues bid invitations to construct city facilities. But the bidding process used by San Luis Obispo does not require the winning contractor to employ plumbers, electricians, masons, welders, ironworkers, carpenters, equipment operators or laborers who live in San Luis Obispo.
On April 21, for instance, the City Council considered advertising for bids on two construction projects estimated to cost $1.6 million to replace a storm drain on High Street and a 16-inch waterline on California Boulevard and Johnson Avenue. But the council did not discuss requiring the winning bidder to hire local workers for these or any other city projects.
That means winning outof-town bidders can import workers from places such as Bakersfield, Fresno and Santa Maria who by law must be paid the same good prevailing wage that a San Luis Obispo worker would be paid. That money pulled out of San Luis Obispo instead boosts the Bakersfield, Fresno or other distant economies.
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California law allows our city an easy way to require local hires by private contractors constructing city facilities and infrastructure, at no added cost. California’s Public Contract Code permits a city to enter into a project labor agreement for all construction projects that will require any contractor winning the bid to hire local residents to build city projects (whether it be a bridge, sewer upgrade or a new city police station).
Here’s where the turning lead into gold comes in. It is something most of us intuitively know. With a local hire requirement, whatever contractor wins a city bid, the money is paid to local workers. It stays here. A local cement mason’s wage will get spent here buying gas, paying for a barber, taking his family to the movies and buying produce. Those dollars will be spent again and again. The barber buys groceries, the grocer buys more produce, and the theater and gas station pay their employees here. The produce farmer will spend those dollars again at Costco, and the theater employee will use them while taking a date to dinner, and on and on as this money circulates. It is well established that a project labor agreement will boost a city’s local economy, multiplying by 400 percent to 700 percent the public construction dollars spent.
Don’t be fooled by rabid anti-union arguments. Project labor agreements are “union neutral” by law.
The Public Contract Code imposes taxpayer protection provisions on project labor agreements. Both union contractors and non-union contractors, in and out of town, are eligible to bid and win the city’s contracts. Both union and non-union workers who are city residents are eligible for jobs governed by the agreement on a firstapplied, first-hired basis. Strikes and lockouts are forbidden. Both union and non-union workers must be provided with health and welfare, pension, vacation and training benefits — enriching our local community. And union hiring halls bear all administrative expenses , even though nonunion workers must be dispatched to the jobs and provided union health and pension benefits.
The math is not complicated. If San Luis Obispo had adopted a project labor agreement, that $1.6 million spent on the storm drain and waterline would generate between $6.4 million and $11.2 million in new economic activity right here in SLO.
To build a prosperous San Luis Obispo for all of our residents, it is time for the City Council to adopt a blanket project labor agreement covering all city construction projects.