Like a comet, the should we or shouldn’t we discussion about Project Labor Agreements makes an appearance at Santa Clara Unified School District Board of Trustees meetings once in a while. Until the meeting on Thursday, March 23, the controversial topic hadn’t seen any concrete action from the Board but now, the Trustees are moving forward on a pilot.
Project Labor Agreement
Most of the Trustees have been on the Board for many years and recall the topic of Project Labor Agreements, or PLAs, coming around again and again. A PLA is a “pre-hire collective bargaining agreement that established terms and conditions of employment for a specific construction project or projects,” according to the Public Contract Code. The main part of PLAs that people talk about is that it specifies that only unionized companies can bid on PLA projects.
Deputy Superintendent of Operations and Chief Business Official Mark Schiel shared the advantages and disadvantages PLAs may have for the District and their contractors. PLAs are built to ensure fair wages for workers, a skilled workforce, and projects follow contracted schedule and quality. PLAs also protect against labor work stoppages. However, Schiel said Santa Clara Unified, without a PLA, already requires prevailing wage and that their workers are skilled and trained. They also support apprenticeship and they have never had a labor work stoppage.
Disadvantages include more administrative time and costs to oversee PLA compliance. If contractors don’t comply with the PLA, the District must enforce it. There is also the possibility that construction projects will be more expensive due to a smaller bidder pool since only union companies can bid. When the District constructed the three schools on the old Agnew’s site, Schiel says that most of that work went to union jobs even without a PLA in place.
The choice the Board was faced with came in the form of three options from staff. Option #1 was not doing a PLA at all, Option #2 was to pilot a PLA on with the Laurelwood Elementary School project (a whole new school), and Option #3 was to do the pilot PLA on one of two similar projects – either Bracher Elementary or Westwood Elementary, both of which are getting facilities upgrades. Schiel said doing the pilot at Laurelwood would be difficult because there’s nothing similar to compare, but a Bracher or Westood pilot would be easier because the scope of both projects is similar but not exact.
Board Clerk Jim Canova wanted to give a PLA a whirl on one project and see how it goes. His main reason being that they have yet to just try it and get their own data on to base their opinions. He proposed they go for Option #3 – Bracher or Westwood projects – since the projects are smaller and similar. Board Vice President Bonnie Lieberman agreed but would have preferred Option #2 – the PLA pilot on the Laurelwood project – but supports Option #3 since it’s a step in the right direction.
Board Members Albert Gonalez and Jodi Muirhead were enthusiastic about trying a PLA but wanted to try the Laurelwood project pilot instead. They were concerned that the Bracher or Westwood projects were too small for the pilot. They argued that they could compare the Laurelwood PLA pilot to the Agnews schools.
Board Member Dr. Michele Ryan said she’s been on the Board for about 10 years and doesn’t have a straightforward answer to what the problem is that they are trying to fix. She pointed to Schiel’s presentation that the contractor processes the District already have in place serve them well. Additionally, she proposed that the District survey contractors they have worked with in the past about their thoughts on PLAs, something San Jose State University had done and then decided not to do PLAs. Board Member Andy Ratermann agreed.
“I and deeply concerned about the expense,” said Dr. Ryan. “I don’t think we need a PLA at all, but I am deeply concerned about trying this on the Laurelwood project. A project where we are already almost 100% over the original budget. Adding this additional risk we know will cost more money because there is oversight involved. We know there will be more money and there is definitely the risk of going much more over budget and we can’t afford to do that. If we do it on a smaller project and it goes over budget we can probably handle that.”
Comments from the community were mostly about the pros and cons of union labor with a few ABC NorCal representatives and one small business owner being the opposition to the PLA. The majority of public comments were very favorable of PLAs, sighting reasons like supporting local workers. The Board did appreciate the idea of hiring local workers whether they decided to implement a PLA or not.
The motion to go with Option #3 – the Bracher or Westwood pilot PLA – passed 5-2.
The next steps include picking either Bracher or Westwood for the pilot PLA and then working with the legal council to create the PLA documents, said Schiel. More information will come about the timeline for the projects and the PLA.
Measure BB Sale
On March 9, the Santa Clara Unified had staff take the second series of Measure BB loans for the amount of $170 million out for bid. Lori Raineri with Government Financial Services Joint Power Authority said the sale exceeded expectations. They got 12 bidders, and the winning bid was from Fifth Third.
Thanks to the successful sale, they have about $1.68 million more for facilities because costs were less. They also got a “nice premium” which “goes right to the fund at the county that pays back the debt service,” which is good for taxpayers, said Raineri. The money has made it to the District’s wallet and they are ready to get to work on facility projects.
Looking ahead, staff hope to pay the Measure BB Bond off early and save taxpayers money. Raineri said they already shaved 4 years off, but they still have the third series of Measure BB to consider. The final $190 million of Measure BB bonds is planned for the fiscal year 2025-26.
The Board heard student reports from Tania Zaragoza and Grace Goodson from New Valley High School, Anika Bose from Wilcox High School and Andrew Chandra from Wilson High School.
The Board approved the appointment of Robert Burkhart as the new Grounds Manager.
The Santa Clara Unified Board’s next meeting is on Thursday, April 13.