I am one of five members of the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors who are regularly called upon to make decisions that affect the well-being of families and businesses in the Imperial Valley. It is a big responsibility and like the other board members, I take this responsibility very seriously.
It is in that spirit that we are considering project labor agreements for the construction projects that we undertake in our community. Project labor agreements are pre-hire agreements covering issues such as wages, benefits, ways to resolve disputes and other basic elements that are part of every big construction project. If an agency like ours establishes a requirement for these agreements, the contractors who we hire have to abide by those basic rules that we set.
By law, public agency project labor agreements must not discriminate by race, gender or union membership. Everyone is subject to the same rules. Public agency project labor agreements are also required to allow both union and non-union contractors to bid on the projects. Local non-union contractors not only can continue to work on district projects, they will now have access to the union workforce allowing them to take on even bigger projects.
One of the advantages of such agreements is that within them, hiring locally is a priority. PLAs help ensure trained and experienced local workers get hired when work is available. These agreements also make sure that there is work for people who are just starting out on their career paths in the construction industry and help create more opportunities for community residents to enter into apprenticeship programs and secure good-paying career jobs in the trades. In this way, we can build what we need today, while developing the skilled and experienced workers the Imperial Valley surely will need in the years to come.
Project labor agreements, also known as community workforce agreements, are not new, nationally or statewide. The website “communityhiring.net” provides case studies on many of the agreements that state and local agencies have established throughout California in the last several years. The agreements work well to ensure smooth and safe completion of important construction projects. These agreements are in the mainstream of modern public construction projects because study after study shows that they benefit both the contracting agency and the community.
There are those who fundamentally oppose project labor agreements despite their proven benefits. They argue that because labor unions represent the workers on these construction projects, the costs are higher. In fact, research shows this is not the case. And with the agreements, projects get done right and on time. Project labor agreements serve as important tools to protect public investments in building the critical community infrastructure we require for our economy to grow and our families to thrive.
Over the last year, the Imperial Irrigation District staff has been working to develop a project labor agreement that protects the public, treats workers and contractors fairly, and sets the ground rules for the successful completion of public works construction here in the Imperial Valley. I am looking forward to ratifying an agreement that fulfills all those goals.
I represent most of Calexico and the Imperial Irrigation District service area along the U.S.-Mexico border. I served as IID board president last year and vice-president in 2018. I was elected to the district board in 2016, and before that, I was a trustee, and school board president, for the Calexico Unified School District. And I am a businessman in Calexico. Many in Imperial Valley know me. I hope they know that when I speak for project labor agreements, I do so because I believe they are in the best interests of my friends and neighbors, the families, working people and businesses of our community.
Erik Ortega is director for Imperial Irrigation District Division 4.