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Councilmember Rowse Blisters Hire-Local Program as ‘Quid Pro Quo’

Accuses Pro-Union Council Majority of Making Deal in Exchange for Continued Political Support, Campaign Donations

Photo: Paul Wellman Construction company owners like Lee Cushman (above) have argued that the project labor agreement will force unions to hire people from outside the area.

On Tuesday, Santa Barbara City Councilmember Randy Rowse sought to rescind a council deal made earlier this year that gives building-trade unions the hiring authority for city construction projects greater than $5 million in value. But he got nowhere for his efforts other than more frustrated. Only Councilmember Kristen Sneddon voted with him. Rowse ​— ​on the tail end of his last year in office ​— ​castigated the agreement as political “quid pro quo” made by the pro-union council majority in exchange for continued political support and campaign donations to candidates backed by the Democratic Party. 

Supporters of the agreement ​— ​known alternately as a project labor agreement (PLA) or a community workforce agreement ​— ​contend it will increase the number of “local” workers hired for City Hall’s larger construction contracts. They argue such agreements give City Hall the legal authority to require a certain percentage of jobs go to women, minorities, veterans, and young apprentices.

At issue Tuesday ​— ​when the council reviewed preliminary talking points for upcoming negotiations over the final terms of such agreements ​— ​was just what difference it would make. Currently, 75 percent of the city’s big construction contracts go to “local” workers, according to a report released by city public works administrators. Under the agreement, the goal will be 85 percent. Construction company owners like Lee Cushman have argued that because there are so few union subcontractors in the tri counties, the unions will be forced to hire people from outside the area.

While Rowse and Sneddon questioned the agreements, the five other councilmembers continued to support it. They highlighted preliminary language requiring that workers living from Carpinteria to Goleta be given the highest hiring preference, with those living from Oxnard to elsewhere in Santa Barbara County getting secondary priority. Nonunion contractors would be allowed to compete, but if selected could only bring a small handful of “core” workers to the job.

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