Cuesta won't limit construction projects to union labor

A bird's-eye view of Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo.
A bird's-eye view of Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

With multimillion-dollar construction projects on track at Cuesta College in Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo, college leaders have decided not to limit what types of firms could be hired to complete the work using money from a voter-approved $275 million bond measure.

By consensus, the Cuesta College Board of Trustees decided Wednesday not to pursue a project-labor agreement for bond measure-funded projects – meaning that union as well as non-union firms could be hired to complete the work.

The board decided its current process for awarding contracts for construction projects is fair and equitable, and no change was needed, board President Patrick Mullen said. No official vote was taken.

“We feel the current practice has served us and residents and taxpayers well,” Mullen said. “The current process allows all bidders, all local businesses to feel comfortable bidding and we’ve been able to utilize local contractors wherever possible.”

The issue had galvanized many union and non-union workers to attend recent trustee meetings to argue whether Cuesta should pursue a project-labor agreement (PLA), which would stipulate that nearly all work must be done by firms that hire union workers.

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 PLA 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.

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, according to Leslie Halls, executive director of the San Luis Obispo County Builders Exchange, which represents 620 members including building contractors, subcontractors and suppliers.

Cuesta College is required by state law to pay prevailing wage, regardless of whether it signed a contract with any union.

In the meantime, plans for construction projects at Cuesta’s San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles campuses are moving ahead. Trustees voted in February to issue up to $75 million in bonds to pay for various projects at both locations.

Design drawings for a 32,000-square-foot instructional building in San Luis Obispo and a 44,000-square-foot North County Campus Center were completed last month; the next step is construction drawings, said Terry Reece, director of facility services, planning and capital projects.

The San Luis Obispo building will provide classrooms, offices and meeting space at an estimated $17.6 million construction cost.

The North County Campus Center will house admissions and records, student life and leadership, a health center, cafeteria, bookstore, computer lab, classrooms and conference rooms. Construction is estimated at $24.8 million.

Reece expects the college to go out to bid on the projects and start construction during the first quarter of 2016.