A crew works on a gravel drainage trench for Taxiway C at Fresno Yosemite International Airport in 2018. Photo via FYI
Written by Frank Lopez
A new study from the UC Merced Community and Labor Center has analyzed the impact that a municipal Project Labor Agreement (PLA) could have for the City of Fresno.
A PLA is a construction contract between management and unions, or labor, that establishes terms for major public projects including wage levels, local hiring, training standards, and working conditions.
These agreements also protect against strikes and insure a qualified workforce, proponents say.
The policy brief, “Filling The Good Jobs Gap: Fresno’s Opportunity for a Citywide Project Labor Agreement” is an analysis by University of California, Berkeley, Ph.D. candidate Keith Brower Brown.
According to the research, from January 2013 to October 2020, an estimated 1,720 full-time construction jobs in Fresno would have been covered by a municipal PLA. The PLA could have supported or bolstered careers for an average of 215 construction workers annually.
“Based on past studies, these jobs benefits won’t come at an increased cost to the city or with delays,” Brown said. “If anything, this will keep construction on track and put Fresno in a position to have a more skilled work force, more stable careers and a more stable economic basis going into the future.”
The study was born as the City of Fresno considers the adoption of a municipal PLA, which would be a reversal for the city as it was one of the first jurisdictions in the country to ban PLAs in 2000.
The study states that during the 2013 to 2020 period, Fresno would have benefited with over $1.5 million per year on average in total increased income for construction laborers.
The ban was reversed in 2014 as PLAs became more common in private sector projects such as solar and the high-speed rail.
“Project Labor Agreements give our qualified local residents the opportunity to compete for public works construction positions that would otherwise go to workers imported from other areas of our state and the US,” said Blake Konczal, executive director of the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board.
A group that is usually not in favor of PLAs: construction and contracting companies.
According to the Associated Builders and Constructors California website, 84% of the state’s construction workforce does not belong to a union. PLAs demand that all workers be hired through a union hall, leaving more chance that the project will not employ a local workforce.
Data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 12.7% of the 2020 U.S. private construction workforce belong to a union.
Preston Cross, president at Four C’s Construction in Fresno, said PLAs create a way for union contractors to have a monopoly on public construction projects.
“PLAs cut out competition, which cuts out local hires and the ability to get the job done on time and on budget with local people,” Cross said.
Cross said that while unions and supporters of PLAs tout local job creation and competition, it doesn’t usually play out that way.
There are 80 workers at Four C’s Construction that would be eager to work any public project, Cross said, but all of them would be excluded if the project falls under a PLA.
Cross said that the city council recently had phone conference calls with construction companies and contractors, as well as local labor groups, to discuss how the city should move forward with the issue.
He expects the city will go with a PLA.