Legislature Seizes Initiative to Protect Local Governments' Freedom to Choose PLAs

October 2011 - Sometimes in the ring, after a fighter has received some painful blows, he’ll come out in the next round with a fresh strategy and new energy, surprising his opponent with an unexpected urgency and purpose that swings the momentum, and ultimately results in  victory.

The ABC-led anti-worker extremists had been scoring some blows against working people and taxpayers around California, before the California Legislature seized the initiative in the recent session and handed them a stinging and well-deserved defeat.

By spreading their flatly dishonest propaganda, that PLAs exclude non-union workers and contractors and raise the costs of public works projects, ABC managed to win blanket prohibitions on PLAs at the ballot box in San Diego County and the cities of Oceanside and Chula Vista.  Emboldened by that success, they then circulated signatures to enact PLA bans in the city of San Diego and city and county of Sacramento.

For over 70 years, many of the largest contractors in the country, and many large cities and counties have used PLAs to further their interests and save tax dollars. But the anti-union interests pushed their PLA bans in hopes of pushing union contractors out of the process, enabling them to secure low-ball bids for themselves.  They called their efforts “fair and open competition” laws, but they were anything but.  They actually deterred real competition.

Fortunately, there are great friends of working people in the leadership positions in the Legislature.  We worked with them to get legislation passed and sent to the Governor that undoes – and prevents in the future - the harm the ABC crowd has inflicted on the working men and women of California.

Assembly Speaker John Perez and Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg amended a dormant bill, SB 922, to mandate that all local governments remain free to consider whether to enter PLAs for public works projects on a case-by-case basis.  Entities with blanket bans must repeal them or lose state funding for future projects.  It doesn’t in any way mandate PLAs; those cities and counties who don’t use PLAs remain entirely free to make that choice.  That’s the point:  SB 922 keeps all choices on the table.

The bill also spelled out an array of taxpayer protections.  Under SB 922, a local entity may enter into a PLA only if the agreement prohibits discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or membership in a labor organization.  Also under SB 922, all qualified contractors and subcontractors must be able to bid for and be awarded work on the project without regard to whether they are union or non-union.  The agreement must provide for drug testing for workers.  It must contain guarantees against strikes, lockouts, or other disruptions, and it must provide that disputes be resolved by a neutral arbitrator.

The bill was heard in public, open committee hearings in both the Senate and Assembly, and predictably, the ABC crowd screamed bloody murder.  That’s understandable; all of their dishonest, underhanded efforts to ban PLAs and squeeze union workers and contractors out of public works projects were suddenly unraveling.

After hearing all the arguments for and against the bill, those committees passed it, as did the full Senate and Assembly.  Every Democrat voted with us, every Republican against.  On October 2, Governor Jerry Brown wisely signed the bill, noting: “Contrary to what the opponents claim, this bill does not require any local government to adopt a PLA.  In fact, this bill preserves the right of all sides to debate what obviously is a hotly contested issue.  Seems fair to me – even democratic.”

By overturning local PLA bans, SB 922 brings a return to fair and open competition.  There was nothing fair and open about prohibiting present and future city councils and boards of supervisors from even considering whether PLAs are right for their public works projects.

Yes, workers and taxpayers took some painful hits in places like San Diego, Chula Vista and Oceanside.  But because our legislative leaders recognized the problem and acted decisively to fix it with SB 922, it now feels like our opponents are staggered, and we workers and taxpayers are winning this fight.



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