City Council Approves Five-Year Project Labor Agreement Aimed at Hiring Local, Building Careers

After nearly 5 months of negotiations between city staff and labor unions, City Council voted unanimously to pass a comprehensive five-year project labor agreement (PLA) that will carry out an estimated $28 million in annual projects over the length of the contract, with a stated goal of hiring nearly half of the required workforce locally.

Nearly 400 supporters from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) showed up in support of the passage of the PLA, forcing staff at City Hall to divert overflow to the library where the meeting could be watched on television. They wore custom-made shirts just for the event and held signs that read “PLA = JOBS”.

Also in attendance for the passage of the historic PLA were Congressman Alan Lowenthal and Congresswoman Janice Hahn as well as clergy members from the community who helped channel the voice of the community to the council’s chambers.

“This is really about making sure Long Beach workers are prepared for work and will get work in this city with construction projects,” Lowenthal said. “That’s just exactly what this city should be doing.”

Hahn, speaking about her time spent as a Los Angeles City Councilwoman, noted the 9 PLAs passed by LA since 2001. The Congresswoman called the labor agreements beneficial because they provide taxpayers with a better project in the end, due to the fact that they’re carried out by union workers, who after acquiring the “skills to pay bills,” put out a better product because of their connection to the city.

“These are folks that really care about their community, they’re invested in their community,” Hahn said. “I think PLAs really mean the taxpayers get their money’s worth from these publicly-funded projects.”

The motion eventually passed by a 7-0 vote, but not before a nearly 4 hour long process that included a lengthy public comment section, where numerous supporters of the PLA voiced how it would positively affect them going forward.

The agreement approved by the council will cover all projects entered into by the City over $500,000 that are subject to State, federal or other funding restrictions, but will exclude the agreements entered into for the new Civic Center and the Belmont Plaza Pool, “right-of-way” projects, those typically performed by city employees or those entered into by Charter-Commissioned departments. It also prohibits work stoppages or lock-outs during the contract to ensure that covered projects are completed without disruption.

Also included are provisions for a goal of 40 percent local hires based on the total hours worked on a project and a goal of ten percent of the hires coming from “disadvantaged workers,” targeting veterans and those 70 percent below the lower living standard income level. The PLA also incorporates a partnership between Long Beach City College and the Pacific Gateway Workforce Investment Network to provide pre-apprentice training to ensure that Long Beach residents will be ready to take those jobs when they become available.

“All of this has really made a customized PLA for all of us,” said First District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez, the maker of the motion who has been deeply involved in the negotiation process. “And I think in addition to that, working with our Long Beach City College to create that pipeline, making sure that Pacific Gateway creates that connection with our community, to ensure that folks are actually getting to work with Long Beach is very important.”

Not everyone was excited about the council’s intent to approve the agreement, however. Eric Christen, executive director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction (CFEC) criticized the local-hire mandate, calling it illegal. Christen added that the fact that the PLA applies to multiple contracts over the course of five years is a direct violation of the 1993 Boston Harbor U.S. Supreme Court decision. He also questioned why the agreement had not been made public, a statement that was later refuted by city staff.

“I understand the desire not to have something that’s so implicitly and explicitly discriminatory brought out into the public in the light of day for all to see because it has provisions in it that are explicitly and implicitly discriminatory and that will increase your costs,” Christen said.

The PLA is subject to annual review from a joint administrative staff committee composed of representatives from the trades and the city, which will monitor the progress of the agreement, provide data to the council and act on suggestions the council makes regarding possible amendments to the PLA. Although city staff acknowledged they weren’t able to definitively say if the agreement would be fiscally positive or negative for the city, they did estimate that the annual monitoring cost, based on an industry standard between .07 and 1.33 percent, would run around $280,000 annually.

Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price said that the cost of getting people on the “economic ladder” can’t be fairly quantified, and that even if the PLA increases construction costs they could very well be outweighed by workers being paid what they’re expected to get paid and for residents of the city developing careers they might not otherwise have had.

“I think it’s a beneficial investment in our residents that we can’t accurately measure, at least not today and at least not in the short term,” Price said. “But it’s an investment worth making.”

Scrutinizing the data that’s due back to the council annually was the crux of Price’s friendly amendment that was ultimately passed. Wanting flexibility as the city approaches uncertain financial times, Price called for a full council review after year three of the contract, where they will be able to present suggestions to the joint administrative staff to clean up any deficiencies that are noticed after a few solid years of data gathering.

“It’s an opportunity for us to work with our partners to make tweaks and adjustments if we need to at the 3-year mark,” Price said. “We may need to make tweaks to stimulate local economy, it allows us to evaluate our project labor agreement.”

The city entered into its first large-scale PLA in 2009 with the council’s approval of the Middle Harbor project, adding several other agreements since then, including the contracts for the Long Beach Airport, Gerald Desmond Bridge Project and the more recently, the approving of a bid to Plenary Edgemoor to build the new Civic Center. Mayor Robert Garcia outlined this process that preceded last night’s vote, calling it a great day for the city.

“I’m proud to have been here and voted in favor of all of those project labor agreements because I believe the project labor agreements provide a consistent level of quality, they’re able to give back so many more ways in what the community receives from the work and the investment you all do in the community,” Garcia said.

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Jason Ruiz has been covering City Hall for the Post for nearly a decade. A Long Beach resident, Ruiz graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. He and his wife Kristina and, most importantly, their dog Mango, live in Long Beach. He is a particularly avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the UCLA Bruins, which is why he sometimes comes to work after the weekend in a grumpy mood.