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PLAs are Good for the Imperial Valley

By Sterling “Arkie” Mayes | Special to Imperial Valley News (Click to read more)

Today, there’s an issue dividing our county, and I have to say that it shouldn’t be. The Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors voted last Oct. 8 to establish an agreement with local unions to supply labor for some important upcoming construction projects. It’s called a Project Labor Agreement, or PLA for short.

These have become pretty standard in the construction business when you need high-quality local labor to produce solid results, on time, with a minimum of administrative problems and without a lot of post-construction fixes. The reason is that unions make sure their workers are highly trained skilled professionals who know how to do their work right, and get it done efficiently and safely.

I’ve been a plumber and a welder. I’m a member of the board of directors of the California 45th District Agricultural Association, a member (and past president) of the Imperial County Sheriff’s Posse. I’m on the IID Water Conservation Advisory Board and a past board member of the County Workforce Development Board, and a former board member of the Renewable Energy Advisory Committee for the San Diego School District-Imperial County. I refer to all these boards because I want to show that I’ve got a commitment to our community, just like my neighbors. I live and work here in the Imperial Valley. I care about this community and I care about my neighbors. I moved here 35 years ago and for my family and me, this is home.

So when I am saying Project Labor Agreements will be good for the Imperial Valley, I’m not saying that just because I’m a union man, although I am and I am proud of that. I’m saying it because with a PLA, skilled training and employing the local workforce is top priority.

Not only does a PLA mean you get highly trained and qualified men and women for a project, PLAs help create a career pipeline for more local skilled craftspeople in the community. And through the PLA, local unions will connect this local workforce with projects in the community, maximizing the benefits of our local tax dollars to not only build quality projects but expand opportunity for Imperial County residents to be on the job site constructing these projects, earning good wages and benefits like quality healthcare in the process.      When professionals compare the cost of PLA versus non-PLA public works projects, the costs come out to be about the same – but slightly lower for PLA projects. On public works projects like IID, PLAs don’t require higher wages for people on the worksite, although they do make sure those working are well-trained. Wages are the same as the prevailing wage

And even though unions are involved in hiring with PLAs, when it comes to bidding on public works work, the winning bids go to the lowest bidding qualified company, whether or not they are a union company. Another thing that’s good for the public in these agreements – it takes strikes off the table. With PLAs, there are alternative ways to work out labor/management disagreements, so that means the work gets done, gets done on time, and gets done with a minimum of conflict.

If you want to know how PLAs work, and how well they work, just ask the managers at the IID or managers at hundreds of other cities, counties, water districts, school districts, utilities and other public agencies across the state of California. Those managers have successfully used PLAs to do complex and important public projects. The agreements have been repeatedly renewed and expanded and the boards of those cities, counties and agencies have assessed the performance of contractors and found good results.

It’s not like union labor is some way-out thing. Here in Imperial County, my friends with the IBEW Local 569 have installed nearly two gigawatts of renewable energy over the last 10 years, and across all large-scale solar projects, an average of 80 percent of Local 569’s workforce was local hires. Every day in California, thousands of people drive by, or on or over, public works projects that have been done and done well by union labor through PLAs. 

Project Labor Agreements make sure we’ve got local professionals on the worksite, and that means safety and efficiency and reinvesting dollars back into our local economy. And that’s why I’m urging the Imperial Irrigation District board and my neighbors in the Imperial Valley to do what’s best for our community and stand by this decision.