Coast Community stymied on labor agreement

Once again, the Coast Community College District has deadlocked on a broad labor agreement to govern spending of bond money that has sparked campaigns from union and nonunion activists.

Wednesday night, more than 30 people urged the board toward or away from drafting an agreement that would pre-negotiate terms with local unions for all construction projects bid out under almost $700 million of bond money voters approved in November.

In February, the board formed a task force to explore the option, but the group quickly deadlocked on whether an agreement was even needed.

Since then, some trustees have tried to push the process forward while others are insisting it must happen slowly, if at all.

In that time, it’s drawn attention from nonunion activists and local construction unions.

Proponents of the overarching contracts, known as project labor agreements, say they have the ability to keep hiring local, improve project safety and give hiring preference to veterans.

Opponents say the deals are nothing but giveaways to unions that increase project costs.

Orange County-based construction unions have lobbied the board in person to craft an agreement, and opposition groups like the Associated Builders and Contractors and Costa Mesa Taxpayers Assn. have attacked trustees with fliers and robo-calls.

Trustees ultimately referred the project back to the task force on a 3-2 vote Wednesday.

“This board needs to get off its [behind] and start doing something for the people it serves,” said Trustee Jim Moreno, who indicated he would vote for drafting an agreement.

But other trustees insist the board made a promise to not craft a project labor agreement when it asked political groups to support their bond measure.

“When we worked like dogs to get Measure M passed, we worked night and day to make that work. And we made a commitment to the Orange County Taxpayers Assn. as well as the Orange County Business Council that we wouldn’t do this,” Trustee David Grant said. “I don’t see how we can go back on our word.”

Trustee Jerry Patterson has repeatedly placed the agreement on the agenda, trying to advance the task force’s work with new motions.

At Wednesday’s meeting, he originally proposed the task force begin negotiating with local unions, but he scaled back his motion to instruct members only to start drafting an agreement.

He also originally raised the idea for the board’s consideration at a special meeting.

“This is something I knew nothing about until January when it was suddenly put onto a special meeting agenda,” said Trustee Mary Hornbuckle, adding that the sudden nature angered her.

She and other trustees said the process was moving too quickly and Patterson was trying to push the process forward past the original task force.

If that body deadlocks on whether or not the agreement is needed, so be it, said Trustee David Grant, who is on the task force with Patterson.

He threatened to make a motion to kill the idea altogether if Patterson wasn’t willing to go through the process, which Grant said is designed to let everyone have his or her say.

“So for heaven’s sake, give us a break,” he said.

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck