Ventura County, CA | Unions Walk From PLA, Non-PLA Bid Process; Saves Taxpayers $9 Million Dollars

Irony: a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects.

A “Project Labor Agreement” (PLA) is when the government awards contracts for public construction projects exclusively to unionized firms.

In November of 2020, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors (BOS) learned that a proposed PLA on county projects would likely result in tens of millions of added costs over the next five years.

Their own staff recommended that the Board reject the proposed PLA.

Outgoing Supervisor Zaragoza proposed a “pilot” program PLA of four County capital projects totaling $90 million. All of the projects would be union only with no competitive bidding.

Ventura County Taxpayers Association and others suggested a fair alternative approach. For each county project, staff would send two requests for bids, first as a PLA, and also separately, as a non-PLA. Requiring two bids for each project allows the county a true comparison. The Board will then approve or reject each bid based on its merit and taxpayer value.

After discussion, Supervisor Zaragoza amended his motion, that was seconded by Supervisor Bennett, that the county shall “bid both ways” as PLA and non-PLA for the pilot program of 4 projects. 

The motion was approved. Supervisor Linda Parks said, “I was not going to support the original motion (union only PLA) because it would be more expensive, but since this will be bid both ways, I will support the motion… so the Board will understand the differences”.

Eleven months after their decision requiring certain county projects be open to competitive bidding, the trade unions walked away refusing to bid because the county required “the four Pilot PLA projects would be bid with and without a PLA”.

Most local contractors and employees choose to refrain from unionization when they have the free choice. Most craft labor in Ventura County is non-union. 

In order to secure contracts, labor unions turn to politicians to remove that choice and impose union representation on employees from the top down. The method by which this is done is a PLA.

Project labor agreements usually require contractors to grant unions monopoly bargaining privileges over all workers, use exclusive union hiring halls, and force workers to pay dues to keep their jobs. 

The use of a PLA usually results in cost overruns and higher construction costs for taxpayers. Qualified non-union contractors who wish to make lower-cost bids, and employees who wish to work non-union, are locked out of the project. 

Unions tout PLA benefits from a better-trained workforce along with guaranteeing more jobs for local workers. However, these same unions produce no evidence or track record to support any of these claims.

The irony of the unions decision to walk away is that staff and the County will proceed with public bidding of the four capital projects totaling $90 million without a union PLA agreement, saving taxpayers upwards of $9 million dollars.

The Ventura County Taxpayers Association applauds the Board of Supervisors’ wise decision to move forward with an initial program where each county construction project would be bid both as a PLA and also a non-PLA. We urge the Board to require all future projects be bid both as a PLA and non-PLA to maximize transparency to the public.


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