Smaller construction projects covered by the San Jose labor agreement


23 December 2021

San Jose is expanding a labor agreement to smaller public works projects, raising questions about how the city measures the protection of workers from commercial interests.

The city council voted 8-3 last week to approve amendments to the San Jose Project Labor Agreement (PLA), which enforces rules on working conditions and the type of work that can be used on public works projects. The city has made several changes, but the most significant is a reduction in the dollar threshold for projects that will fall under the PLA from $ 3 million to $ 1 million, which means it will apply to more projects. .

By lowering the threshold, the PLA will cover more small projects like roads, sewers and some building renovations. It will also apply stricter oversight to these projects, for example ensuring that union compliance staff have access to work sites.

“This improves the protection of workers on projects, so there is more oversight to prevent wage theft and ensure that workers receive their full wages and benefits, as well as training and supervision,” Louise Auerhahn, director of economic and workforce policy at Working Partnerships USA, told Spotlight in San José. She added that it also creates opportunities for new people to enter the construction industry through learning opportunities and targeted hiring.

The PLA, adopted in 2019, only applied to about ten projects. Public Works Director Matt Cano said he expected the change would not significantly increase the number of projects covered. Still, lawmakers who proposed the amendment say it’s worth covering more workers under the PLA.

“That was really the goal of this: to make more projects apply and allow more workers to benefit from the working conditions guaranteed by the project’s labor agreement,” said the board member. David Cohen in San José Spotlight.

Some opponents of the PLA’s expansion say it would hurt small businesses by preventing them from bidding on small public works projects given the added cost of hiring union workers and respecting others. provisions of the agreement.

“The kind of companies that tend to look for this type of work are not the big companies with 200 or 500 people,” said San José Spotlight Christian Malesic, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Central Chamber of Commerce. “They tend to be the mom and pop stores that got big enough to start hiring employees.”

It can also negatively affect the ability of local businesses to work on public projects. In a letter to city council, Malesic cited the example of a San José-based company, QLM, Inc., which made the lowest bid for the Pellier Park project. A lower threshold for the LPA would potentially make it more difficult for small local businesses to afford to bid on similar projects.

During the meeting, board member Maya Esparza pointed out that the $ 1 million threshold was in line with cities like Sacramento, San Leandro and Alameda County, and that it was still above the thresholds of the APL in Long Beach and Los Angeles.

The council meeting also revealed that some of the city’s enforcement mechanisms were rarely used. Cano said the city can exclude companies for labor law violations, but has only done so once in the past 20 years.

The city is currently investigating labor law violations at three housing sites built by contractors for Habitat for Humanity. The public works department demanded more than $ 319,000 in compensation for the workers, which the subcontractor disputes.

Board member Sylvia Arenas asked Cano if the department would be able to secure payments to workers before Christmas. He said no and that it was difficult to give an estimate of when the cases would be resolved. Arenas asked Cano about the possibility of enrolling families affected by wage theft in a Christmas giving program. He discouraged the idea, noting that asking the city to organize giveaways for affected workers could potentially complicate the matter.

“I understand. But these are families that potentially have children,” Arenas said. “If we didn’t have a few of our paychecks, we would definitely be affected.”

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @ EliWolfe4 on Twitter.


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