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SLO city to seek local labor agreements on big-dollar projects 

With major capital projects like a new parking garage, highway interchange, and police station on the horizon, the San Luis Obispo City Council is hoping to ensure that local labor gets hired to work those jobs.

At its April 19 meeting, the City Council voted unanimously to direct staff to pursue community workforce agreements (CWAs) for those three projects—whose combined construction costs are expected to exceed $150 million.

click to enlarge LOCAL HIRE? San Luis Obispo plans to pursue community workforce agreements on three major capital projects in the near future: a new parking garage, highway interchange, and police station. - FILE PHOTO BY PETER JOHNSON
  • File Photo By Peter Johnson
  • LOCAL HIRE? San Luis Obispo plans to pursue community workforce agreements on three major capital projects in the near future: a new parking garage, highway interchange, and police station.

"We don't want to spend millions and millions and tens of millions of city taxpayer dollars on a project where the vast majority of the money goes to workers who aren't going to be locals," City Councilmember Carlyn Christianson said. "That happened on a few projects in the past, and that was not good."

CWAs are "pre-hire collective bargaining agreements between the city and contractors" for public projects, according to an April 19 city staff report.

"A CWA establishes standard terms and conditions of employment for workers ... including work conditions, hiring procedures, wages and benefits, management rights, dispute resolution procedures, and procedures to prevent work stoppages," according to the report.

A city analysis of past SLO projects and the types of labor used showed that for most capital projects, local contractors won construction bids and hired mostly local workers.

It's the larger, more complex projects that typically draw out-of-area contractors and labor, SLO Public Works Director Matt Horn told New Times.

"Looking at our recent project delivery from 2018 to present, we're doing a real good job at engaging our local contractors, who are using local workers to construct the cities' projects," Horn said. "Some of the bigger dollar construction, some of our percentage points were a bit lower. That's kind of where we focused in on."

In 2019, SLO adopted its first-ever CWA on its wastewater treatment plant project, which is still under construction. According to the city, workers from Monterey, SLO, Santa Barbara, or Ventura counties have accounted for 79 percent of hours worked on that project thus far.

The City Council directed staff to adopt similar agreements for its three major upcoming capital projects—a new downtown parking garage, a highway interchange at Prado Road, and a new police station.

Critics of CWAs argue that the agreements raise project costs and favor union workers over non-union workers. Horn acknowledged that CWAs do come with overhead administrative costs, but they also provide the benefit of local labor.

"It's a trade-off question," Horn said. "Anytime that the city comes in and says this is the preferred methodology you must follow, it's harder for everyone. We're taking it to council to make sure that they have the information they need to help us make that decision, and reflect the community's values." Δ

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