The San Diego Regional Airport Authority has decided to require a union-friendly Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for its largest-ever project — a planned $3 billion expansion of Terminal 1.
Airport authority staff had urged its board to mandate a PLA for the Terminal 1 project, arguing that such pacts ensure labor harmony and help minimize construction delays, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Labor agreements have been used on other major airport projects, including a major renovation currently underway at the Los Angeles International Airport, but never before at San Diego’s airport
The airport plans to build a new building to replace the existing 19 gates, before demolishing the existing terminal and adding 11 additional gates.
“There are many benefits to PLA’s — promoting the use of local labor, utilizing apprenticeship programs, ensuring safe working conditions, better wages, and by law, they will prohibit discrimination,” the newspaper quoted Johanna Schiavoni as saying. He is one of five board members who voted in favor of the PLA requirement. Three board members opposed the decision.
“They do not exclude non-union contractors. Moving forward … will ensure timely completion of our airport development plan,” Schiavoni said.
However critics, including some non-union workers and electrical contractors who showed up at the early April hearing, say that PLAs constrict labor supply.
“I think competition is good, as we have done on all of our projects … If we go to this PLA, we’re closing the door on some folks,” said board member and County Supervisor Jim Desmond. “And subcontractors will be required to hire union only labor.”
“My electricians on your job would have $10.38 an hour going into a union they don’t benefit from,” said Ace Electric president Jeff Hinds. “It’s counter-intuitive to me that you’d limit the work force locally.”
San Diego Councilman Mark Kersey encouraged other board members to support a requirement that the selected contractor on the Terminal 1 project address concerns related to health benefit and pension payments when negotiating a labor agreement with the unions.
County Supervisor Greg Cox said he was persuaded to favor a PLA for the Terminal 1 project because the airlines that will be financing the expansion with the fees they pay want the union-friendly pact.
“I’m sympathetic to the concerns raised,” Cox said. “We need to hammer out the issues before we go out with the request for proposals (from prospective bidders). While this is a public project, the reality is this will be paid for by the airlines and they’re supportive of a PLA in this situation. To me that carries a lot of weight.”
The current schedule calls for construction to start by 2021, with the first 19 gates completed by 2024. The remaining gates would take two additional years to build.