San Diego water authority, Twin Oaks project avoid 'discriminatory' labor pact

Businesses hail request for proposal addendum and say they'll continue to closely monitor any attempts at "monopolizing" future County Water Authority projects...

Apr 23rd, 2005

SAN DIEGO, April 20, 2005 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- A growing alliance of San Diego businesses hailed today's compromise to give a greater number of local and minority-owned contractors the right to bid on the $300 million Twin Oaks Water Treatment plant.

The compromise, reflected in an addendum added to the project's request for proposal, is the result of a recent decision by the San Diego County Water Authority board of directors not to slap the Twin Oaks Water Treatment Plant with a union-only labor agreement. Leaders of this business alliance called the board's addendum "fair for all parties."

"Working with all the bidders, contractors and unions involved, the San Diego County Water Authority created an agreement addendum that is truly fair for all parties," said Steve Friar, co-director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, a member of the alliance of businesses that lobbied for the addendum's language. "This addendum averted a union-only labor agreement that would have discriminated against 85% of our region's workforce, those who don't belong to unions. We congratulate the board and its staff on making the right decision. Local, qualified workers and tradespeople -- be they union or non-union -- will now have the right to bid and compete for this project, which will be funded by and will serve the North County community."

The alliance, however, said it is concerned about future projects and will closely monitor the board next month when it considers restricting more than $1.85 billion in master plan projects with union-only agreements. The alliance claims such restrictions would stifle local and minority participation and would constitute a union-only monopoly in future projects. Other members of the growing alliance include the San Diego chapters of Associated General Contractors, the Associated Builders and Contractors, the Black Contractors Association and others.

Future debate regarding these matters, Friar stated, should be conducted in open public meetings.

"We are calling on all Water Authority board members to keep all future negotiations regarding project labor agreements open to the public," said Friar.

The Twin Oaks project, to be located in an unincorporated part of the county north of San Marcos, was the subject of a proposal process that began in June 2004. Contractors were concerned the process might be radically changed by Water Authority board members at the request of union leaders a mere three weeks before bids were due.

Specifically, contractors feared the possible addition of a project labor agreement, which would exclude those contractors who hire non-union labor for the job. In meetings with many Water Authority board members, contractors asserted a project labor agreement or any similar agreement would not only be discriminatory, but would cost taxpayers millions of dollars by excluding the overwhelming majority of companies and workers who have chosen to be union-free.

The authority's addendum will not include a union-only labor agreement, but will require prevailing wages, a labor compliance agreement, and local and military veterans outreach programs.

"The local hiring goals, the outreach for veterans, the prevailing wage," said Friar, "these are all elements we pushed for as well. All the entities involved in this process wholeheartedly support these elements."

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