Project Labor Agreements Left Behind!


Wanda Rodger is founder of SoCal Pre Apprenticeship Program.

By Wanda Rogers, Founder, SoCal Pre Apprenticeship Program

When government agencies initiate construction projects and use taxpayer monies to fund them or to lease public lands, all developers are required to utilize a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for graduates of skilled and trained workforce programs through apprenticeships.

By definition, PLAs are “collective bargaining agreements between building trade unions and contractors, and govern terms and conditions of employment for all craft workers — union and nonunion — on a construction project.”

The City of San Diego, County of San Diego, SANDAG, San Diego Water Authority, San Diego Unified School District, Airport Authority, Metropolitan Transit System along with major construction projects to rebuild the Midway District and Seaport Village all have approved or proposed proposals based on this directive.

In their proposals, the County stated that their goal was to “improve pay and working conditions in the industries and sectors that rely most heavily on labor from women and people of color, including construction and services.”

Meanwhile, the City of San Diego stated that PLAs will “prohibit all forms of discrimination in City public works projects.”

This has not proved to be true.

Based on data from the California Department of Industrial Relations, LISC San Diego recently re-issued a report — Building Trades Apprenticeships: San Diego County 2007-2017 — that refutes this claim.

The LISC report discovered that the union building trades were not providing the number of apprenticeships to Blacks, Asian Pacific Islanders and women equal to their percentage of population in San Diego County.

The findings include:

While the Black population in San Diego County is 6.39%, Blacks obtained only 3.33% of all union apprenticeships.
The Asian-Pacific Islander community of San Diego County is 16.72%, but received only 1.88% of all union apprenticeships; and
Women, who make up 49.55% of San Diego County’s population, obtained only 1.32% of all union apprenticeships.

This current outcome could have been avoided.

In 2005 the Community Coalition for Responsible Development (ACCORD) — an alliance of community, labor, and faith organizations — successfully negotiated a Community Benefits Agreement, requiring developers of Ballpark Village to provide $1.5 million for pre-apprenticeship programs.

The goal was to ensure that individuals participating in these programs could obtain apprenticeships with the union building trades.

These programs could have helped bridge the gap that our report illuminates.

However, less than 10 individuals received apprenticeships from the first $750,000 that was spent. There is still an additional $750,000 available that needs to be allocated by 2025.

In an effort to increase opportunity, SoCal Pre Apprenticeship Program requests that the County, City, SANDAG, Water Authority, San Diego Unified, Airport Authority, Port and MTS amend their PLA contracts by adding provisions that increase the number of union apprenticeships for Blacks, Asian Pacific Islanders and women to at least equal to their population.

The trades should allocate the last portion of $750,000 to nonprofits and for profits for pre apprenticeship training for these groups to ensure that they are prepared for the union apprenticeship programs.

In addition, the LISC San Diego report shows the discrepancy of apprenticeships provided within the individual union trades.

The electricians’ union, IBEW, provided the second highest number of apprenticeships at 528 over the 10-year period, yet Blacks received only 4.55%, Asian Pacific Islanders 2.46%, and women 2.08%.

The drywall-lather union provided 480 apprenticeships in that period, but only 1.46% to Blacks, 0.83% to Asian Pacific Islanders and 0.42% to women.

Finally, the Laborers union provided 278 apprenticeships with only 3.37% going to Blacks, 1.08% to Asian Pacific Islanders and 4.32% to women.

Based upon these self-reported numbers, it is clear that many, if not all, of the union building trades have room to expand their apprenticeships to ensure that they are equitably distributed to all San Diego County residents.

As the federal, state and local governments look to providing more tax dollars for infrastructure projects and build more affordable housing, it is imperative that in the post-George Floyd era that important organizations like the union building trades provide equity and opportunity.

The apprenticeship page on the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council website states the following: “Building Trades Unions are providing solutions to meet the challenges of a changing energy-conscious world. With pride, performance and professionalism, our highly skilled work force delivers unmatched value for contractors and owners alike.”

SoCal Pre Apprenticeship agrees.

Ensuring that all residents in San Diego County have the opportunity to prosper with good-paying careers is a win-win for all of us.

Wanda Rodger is founder of SoCal Pre Apprenticeship Program.

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