City Council members are poised Tuesday to approve a project labor agreement with the Napa-Solano Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO, to cover virtually all work associated with Fairfield’s train station project.
This is a massive undertaking that will help shape the city for the remainder of the 21st century, at an estimated cost of $81.5 million. Construction on a major piece of the project – to take Peabody Road over the existing railroad tracks near Vanden Road, is scheduled to begin next summer and will shut down the roadway for about a year.
Proponents of project labor agreements contend that they keep project costs in check and bring projects to conclusion on time. Opponents contend that they ultimately increase taxpayer costs and limit the pool of qualified people who can work on the projects – essentially shutting out shops that are not unionized.
Council members when they first considered a labor agreement for the train station project directed staff to include local-hire provisions and a plan to put qualified veterans to work on the project. The proposed agreement does both, but does not go far enough in the local-hire provisions.
Specifically, the proposed agreement establishes an objective that not less than 25 percent of all hours worked on the project be worked by residents of Napa and Solano counties.
The staff doesn’t even have the courtesy in its report to the council to list Solano County first. Beyond that, we believe the objective should be higher – 75 percent – for the two counties, that 75 percent of those hires be Solano County residents, and that 75 percent of those hires be Fairfield residents. This is, after all, a Fairfield project.
Solano County’s unemployment rate is 6.6 percent compared to Napa County’s 4.5 percent, based on the latest information available from the state. Fairfield’s rate is 7.2 percent. Solano County residents need these jobs more than those who live in Napa County do. Fairfield residents specifically need the employment boost. The Fairfield council has a chance to make this happen for the people they are elected to represent.
The staff report notes that the unions have agreed “to exert their utmost efforts” to achieve the 25-percent objective. That’s not good enough. The increased percentages should be firm floors, not agreed-upon goals. If people want these jobs, they can relocate here to get them. In doing so they may deprive a current Fairfield resident of a job on the project, but at least the workers would be more likely to spend dollars they earn in Fairfield, in Fairfield, or at least within the county.
Again, this is a Fairfield project.
Language contained in the proposed agreement’s local-hire provisions defines the local area as “Napa and Solano counties, the communities to be served by the project.” This is a Capitol Corridor line. It serves several counties and numerous communities from Auburn to the east, through Sacramento and then Davis before traversing Solano County and moving into the heart of the Bay Area and down into San Jose. It does not pass through Napa County.
The agreement should be honest about the communities served by this Fairfield project. We’re of a mind that a bus connection from Martinez, through Vallejo and then on to Napa does not qualify Napa County as a community “served” by this Fairfield project.
Finally, it’s no secret that vocational education at the high school level is virtually nonexistent given the past several years of education budget cuts combined with the emphasis on testing with No Child Left Behind. Likewise, it’s too soon to tell if vocational programs will see a resurgence with implementation of Common Core standards.
What’s clear is that a path to a career in the trades is not so clear as it once was.
Solano Community College targets specific trades through its various educational offerings, and crafted its own project labor agreement for the first of the projects related to the $348 million Measure Q in part to guarantee that those projects will allow internships in the construction trades – internships that Solano College students may benefit from.
The proposed labor agreement for the train station project notes that the contractor will be required to contribute to the union’s apprenticeship fund – among many others that include vacation and pension funds. It also notes that the contractor will hire apprentices in their respective crafts, within the parameters of the law. The proposed agreement limits those apprentices to people who are taking part in a joint apprenticeship program that’s approved by the state.
That’s too limiting. Apprenticeships should be open to participants in programs that have either state or federal approval, regardless of union affiliation. The proposed agreement should also be amended as well to target local residents to fill those internships.
Bottom line: The Fairfield council has telegraphed that it will likely sign off on a project labor agreement for work done on the train station project. That being the case, they should beef up the agreement to guarantee more Fairfield and Solano County hires for both jobs and internships, and to open up apprenticeships to a larger group of prospective apprentices.