Six weeks ago, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors approved a $96 million contract with Fentress Bradburn Architects and Hensel Phillips Construction Co. to design and build a six-story county administration complex across the street from the county courthouse in downtown Stockton.
Today, an official of the Associated Builders and Contractors’ Golden Gate Chapter will ask the supervisors to tear up that contract and draw up a new one without a project labor agreement between the general contractor and the county.
The chance of this happening is nil because supervisors cowardly say it would set construction back at least a year, bring legal challenges and add who knows how many millions of dollars more to a project that is already estimated to cost $108 million.
Courtesy of San Joaquin County Web site
shaping up to be controversial:The design and construction of the $108 million San Joaquin County Administration Building is being criticized for its project labor agreement.
Instead, supervisors will try to deflect criticism from nonunion subcontractors that contend the project labor agreement won’t ensure their nonunion employees will get work on the project. If they do, the workers will have to pay union dues while on the job, even if they don’t want to be union members. Plus, the subcontractors will have to pay their workers’ health and welfare benefits twice: first into their company benefit plans and then into the union trust fund. This is a direct attack on independent business.
Project labor agreements reduce the competition in subcontractor bids and increase the cost of construction, says Nicole Goehring, government affairs director of the Associated Builders and Contractors. How much Low bids are often 15 percent to 20 percent higher than expected and 15 percent to 20 percent higher than the cost of similar projects in the same area, she says. (Read her letter to the Board of Supervisors below.)
Fortunately, the 250,000-square-foot building that will house 16 departments is being constructed under the design-build system in which a master developer draws the plans and erects the structure simultaneously; there are no cost overruns. This process controls the cost of materials and construction time. Unfortunately, with higher bids from subcontractors, Fentress Bradburn Architects and Hensel Phillips Construction Co. will lose out on their profits. That won’t be forgotten when general contractors bid on future county projects.
Supervisors say they had to choose between having a project done on time and that would include local nonunion construction workers or a project that could have been delayed by union work stoppages or protests.
We are concerned with the way the project labor agreement was structured. It is financially disadvantageous to nonunion subcontractors and the general contractor and forces nonunion workers to pay union dues.
We urge our supervisors to advise county administrators to avoid such language in future labor agreements involving county construction projects without prior board of supervisors approval.
Today’s words of warning by Goehring should have come when the contract was discussed at the supervisors’ meeting six weeks ago. The Associated Builders and Contractors was silent when it should have publicly spoken up. Goehring has the attention of supervisors and us — belatedly.