August 17, 2007

The Public Forum . . . El Foro Publico

Are South Bay’s Tax Dollars for Public Construction Projects Providing Opportunity and Benefit for All?

The South Bay has two significant public-works projects on its horizon—the Gaylord Convention Center project in Chula Vista and the construction and refurbishment of our schools in the South Bay Sweetwater Union High School District. Taxpayers will spend almost $2 billion to fund their construction.

Who truly benefits from these contracting opportunities? Is it the usual special interest coalition of political insiders, unions, and large corporations? That usually is the case, but it should not be the case today—not with local tax-dollars that could otherwise fund local jobs and provide contract opportunities to qualified local contractors.

FACT: Over 80% of local skilled workers in the construction business are non-union and it is not too much of a stretch to believe that the vast majority of those workers are Hispanic. Also, the vast majority of Hispanic-owned construction and trade businesses are non-union. So why would unions lobby local politicians to support discriminatory “Project Labor Agreements” (PLA’s) for the Gaylord and Sweetwater projects that would make them union only?

FACT: Non-union companies pay prevailing wages and benefits equal to—if not better than—what union shops pay and provide. Also, non-union construction trade organizations provide apprenticeship programs engaging youth seeking to acquire skill sets in the construction trades. These same groups are ready to begin working with the Sweetwater Union High School District to augment their vocational education programs with specialized training programs. The problem is that the unions are highly adept at keeping those political doors closed to these companies, their employees, and the fantastic benefits they provide the community.

This is not a slap against unions. Both union and non-union companies should be invited and allowed to bid for these contracts on a level playing field; that’s only fair. However, it is outrageous that the unions would attempt to control both of these publicly funded construction projects and lock out the little guy who more often than not happens to be Hispanic.

And just who are the union chieftains providing this political and financial pressure given endless lobbying and threats of litigation? They claim to represent the best interests of the South Bay and Hispanics; however, I read names like Lemmon, Berg and Butkiewicz, which is fine. But where are the names like Morales, Sanchez, or Martinez? Are they at the table making and breaking billion-dollar deals? Not at all. They have no place at the union table—their voice, the majority voice, the community voice, the working voice, goes unheard.

The time for political brinksmanship is over; the stakes are too high. Local political leadership at the Sweetwater School Board and Chula Vista’s City Hall should say NO to discriminatory PLA’s and open up the contracting process to every local qualified union and non-union company alike. This is the best—and only—way to ensure that the entire community benefits, including Hispanics.

Joshua Ramirez
Member of Associated Builders and Contractors
San Diego

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