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County supervisors signal support for project labor agreements

  • Chris Snyder, district 10 representative for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local No. 3, addresses the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in support of Project Labor Agreements, in Santa Rosa on Tuesday, January 14, 2014.

    (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday agreed to advance a controversial policy that would establish union rules, benefits and oversight on large county construction projects.

The move, which awaits formal approval later this month, was a clear show of the greater political muscle unions have with the newly composed board, which took up the change after a slightly different group of supervisors turned it back in 2012.

Proponents found their strongest support Tuesday in Supervisors Shirlee Zane, Mike McGuire and Susan Gorin, who secured revisions sought by unions that broadened the draft policy even further.

The board majority also succeeded in stripping a key provision opposed by unions but sought by Supervisors David Rabbitt and Efren Carrillo to show any impacts such contracts would have on taxpayer costs.

Union leaders, who turned out their rank-and-file members by the dozens Tuesday, were buoyant with the results of their activism.

"Public policy and politics are not a spectator sport," said Jack Buckhorn, president of the North Bay Labor Council, a large coalition of labor groups. "Today I think the board made some very good decisions."

Debate over the issue, long one of the county's most divisive, played out over a 5?-hour hearing, with more than 70 speakers voicing support or opposition to the proposal.

Union members touted the so-called project labor agreements on public works projects as a way to promote local hiring, enhance job training and extend union benefits to nonunion workers.

But nonunion contractors and trade groups have long contended that such deals discourage their firms from competing for projects, force them to act as union employers and drive up construction costs for taxpayers.

For years, the unaffiliated builders have dueled with unions in election campaigns and inside local government chambers. Some of their leaders voiced bitter disappointment Tuesday evening.

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