3/29/08

Firm stands against union thuggery

Nashville, Tenn.-based hotel operator Gaylord Entertainment said the company is more than willing to hire union workers to build its 1,500-room hotel and convention center at the Chula Vista (CA) Bay Front, but would never sign a project labor agreement, which stipulates who can bid on the product and sets prevailing wages and benefits paid by subcontractors.

The unions, represented by the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council and San Diego Building Trades Council, say by ducking the PLA, the developer is refusing to commit to hiring local workers.

Supporters say the agreement is the only way to ensure that Gaylord hires local workers; opponents counter it shuts out competition.

Labor unions like to use PLAs on projects involving public money — in this case the $308 million subsidy by the city of Chula Vista to build out roads and infrastructure such as electricity and plumbing as well as the convention center space.

“They’re very controversial,” said Mike Caples, publisher of Contractor News, a newsletter in Escondido. “They’ve been around for quite some time. They were originally started to ensure on big projects adequate manpower.”

In a PLA, for instance, contractors may agree not to strike and owners would agree that outside influences wouldn’t affect the project, he said.

“The original intent was to ensure projects are done on time,” he added.

The downtown Petco Park ballpark used a PLA, which the anti-union group Associated Builders and Contractors says resulted in the developer having to go outside the county for workers to finish the job.

Supporters of the Gaylord project say the builder has enough regulatory hoops to jump through to get the project approved without union obstruction.

“This builder wants to build a project, if they can get their lease agreement, environmental agreement and financial approvals, they want to build the project,” said Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox. “These are construction jobs. It’s far more jobs than we’re left with without a construction project. One hundred percent of zero is zero.”

The disagreement has left both sides charging the other with misrepresentation. Gaylord, which threatened to walk away from the project back in July, returned to the table after business and community leaders assured the company it would be fairly represented.

“They both have very strong opinions,” said Caples. “The unions are obviously trying keep workers and contractors working. They’re very resourceful in trying to get that to happen. The merit shop guys they want to compete and not get locked out of a project.”

The unions meanwhile have vowed to push for concessions through various grassroots campaigns.

(sdbj.com)

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