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Costa Mesa City Council to consider plan requiring union labor on major city building projects

Costa Mesa City Hall
The Costa Mesa City Council will consider a plan that would require major capital improvement projects to be built with only unionized labor under a community workforce agreement.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The Costa Mesa City Council will consider Tuesday a plan that would require major capital improvement projects to be built with only unionized labor, under a community workforce agreement some say is unfair and could cost the city millions.

Proponents believe such a covenant, also referred to as a project labor agreement, would create job opportunities for Costa Mesa residents, veterans and graduates of the city’s schools, as it would stipulate such workers account for up to 35% of a project’s labor pool.

If unions could not find enough Costa Mesa workers or veterans at-large, they would next consider graduates of a pre-apprenticeship training program operated by the North America’s Building Trades Unions and then open the search to Orange County residents.

During a five-year term, the city would bargain exclusively with the Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents 48 local unions and district councils. The agreement would apply to only the construction of city projects costing more than $1 million.

The council first discussed the plan in a July 21, 2020, regular meeting. But as business stretched past 1 a.m., the panel continued the discussion to Sept. 1. The topic was not revisited until now.

City Atty. Kimberly Hall Barlow said in 2020 staff “received several requests” for the discussion and had been looking at similar agreements in other municipalities, including Santa Ana and Anaheim, for more than a year.

“It had proved beneficial to other cities, and we thought it was worth looking at,” she said.

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Although public comment was not taken, the city received numerous letters of support from area unions, including the Orange County City Employees Assn. and the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers.

Several others, primarily representatives of nonunionized labor organizations, opposed, saying it would exclude their employees, even those who live locally.

Dave Everett, a Costa Mesa resident and government affairs consultant for the Western Electrical Contractors Assn., said Friday the increased costs proposed for nonunion participation could lead to far fewer, and costlier, bids on a project.

Nonunion organizations would pay for their own workers’ healthcare and pension benefits and also have to pay into a similar union benefits account. Only workers who became vested in a union, by working continuously on a project for a long period of time, would ever receive those benefits.

“These agreements basically lock the nonunion guys out,” Everett said. “And eight out of 10 construction workers are nonunion. If you’re a [nonunion] construction worker in Costa Mesa, you can’t even work on a project your taxpayer dollars are funding.”

Council members will consider the community workforce agreement in a regular meeting Tuesday at 6 p.m. that will be held virtually over Zoom. For more, visit costamesaca.gov/city-hall/city-council.

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