Close to Home: Project labor agreements would be a costly mistake for Santa Rosa Junior College

In November 2014, the voters and taxpayers of Sonoma County passed the Sonoma County Junior College District's $410 million Measure H calling for the largest general obligation bond in Sonoma County history. In so doing, the electorate placed an enormous responsibility on the college, the Board of Trustees and its administration to utilize the construction bond funds in a manner both judicious and beneficial to the students, faculty and its constituent community.

As a former SRJC trustee and administrator, we're concerned that the current board is about to vote in unnecessary project labor agreements on Measure H construction projects. Given that the college has maintained excellent construction labor/management relations, it has never used, nor needed, PLAs in its 99-year history. Thus, it is difficult to understand why the current board is considering moving away from the sound, state-regulated practice and tradition of open, fair and competitive bidding to the unnecessary and biased process that unfairly discriminates against our more local and smaller contractors.

Some 15 years ago, the SRJC college board heard arguments for and against project labor agreements in relation to its then newly passed $251 million Measure A. The measure was, until the successful passage of Measure H, the county's largest education-related construction bond ever.

After considerable study and due diligence, the board opted not to align the college district with project labor agreements.

The vote was not anti-labor nor against unions. It was, however, a clear statement that the college took its constituent community seriously and that the main focus in utilizing bond funds was to invest in the college, its instructional programs and, most importantly, learning facilities for its students and the community at large. College projects have been beneficial to Sonoma County construction employment and labor unions have been particularly well-served given that a vast majority of all construction labor has been performed well by union-based firms.

PLAs drive up the price of construction for taxpayers and discourage local construction firms from bidding. They effectively end open, fair and competitive bidding on public works projects.

Several studies have been conducted indicating how much PLAs increase the cost of public works projects. The most comprehensive study ever conducted on PLAs, which looked at more than 500 school construction projects in the United States, found that the use of project labor agreements caused costs to increase from 13 percent to 15 percent. If PLAs were applied to $300 million of the Measure H funding, theoretically the college would lose from $39 million to $45 million in buying power.

Simply put, given the college's impressive track record upholding employment access, affirmative economic and social justice policies, which have helped achieve superlative design and construction results, project labor agreements simply provide no additive value to current labor, to the institution, to our students nor for our community.

Santa Rosa Junior College has always maintained an open and competitive bidding process that welcomes the participation of Sonoma County contractors be they small, mid-range or more regionally focused construction firms. We have always wanted our local participants in bond measure construction efforts to come “closer to home.”

Prior to Measure H being placed on the ballot, it was determined that SRJC has more than $1 billion in needed work. So why should the institution decrease its purchasing power by naively investing in PLAs, which have zero additive value?

We support policies that increase competition and guarantee fair treatment of all contractors and their workers. We support what's best for SRJC students and taxpayers.

We urge the SRJC Board of Trustees to vote no on PLAs when this comes up at Tuesday's meeting.

Should you wish to have your voice heard, please email each of the seven current SRJC board members. You can find their contact information on the SRJC website.

Rick Call is a former member of the Santa Rosa Junior College Board of Trustees. Curt Groninga served as vice president and assistant superintendent of the SRJC for 27 years and currently serves on the SRJC Foundation board of directors. This Close to Home is also signed by B. Robert Burdo, Kathleen Doyle, Don Zumwalt and Onita Pellegrini. All are former members of the Santa Rosa Junior College Board of Trustees.

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