Time will tell if the Fairfield City Council’s unanimous vote Tuesday to initiate a project labor agreement for the city’s planned train station project is an enlightened one that provides for local jobs and saves taxpayers money as proponents of such agreements argue, or a feathering of the union nest that limits competitive bidding on public projects and deprives nonunion workers of jobs as opponents contend.
We tend to believe the latter. That’s why we called for a requirement to use more local residents as project workers, as opposed to a recommendation to use at least some local workers combined with a generous definition of the word local that’s found in the labor agreement. We’re happy to be proven wrong.
Project labor agreements are becoming something of the norm here. The massive county government center was built with such a labor agreement in place. Solano Community College’s governing board has a project labor agreement in place for work associated with the district’s $348 million Measure Q projects.
Now Fairfield has one for the train station project. A first phase of the project will cost somewhere between $68 million and $71.8 million. Officials have said the full project will cost an estimated $81.5 million. The city recently got the green light to use $11 million from Proposition 1B, the $19.9 billion bond passed by state voters in 2006. That allows the city to begin work about a year from now on the Peabody Road bridge and the related train station.
Wages are not the issue in the project labor agreement debate, although some contend that such agreements guarantee a fair wage to workers. This is a public project, so prevailing wage rules will govern worker pay, regardless of what anyone says.
Fairfield’s project labor agreement requires employers of those who are not union members to pay into various union funds – including vacation and pension funds that nonunion workers will not benefit from. They must contribute to the union apprenticeship fund – in addition to any nonunion apprenticeship funds the nonunion employers may support.
Again, we believe such requirements will limit the pool of companies that may bid on the project, or various aspects of the project. Again, we’re happy to be proven wrong.
The public should keep its collective eye on this city project to ensure that costs remain in check, and that a substantial number of Fairfield and Solano County workers actually work the project. They should do the same with Solano College construction projects associated with Measure Q.
After all, those are the main arguments in support of project labor agreements.