by Tim Paulson, Secretary-Treasurer
San Francisco Building & Construction Trades Council
After many years, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors finally voted for a Citywide Project Labor Agreement. These discussions began over twenty years ago when we asked Mayor Willie Brown to sign every building trades union’s collective bargaining agreement of behalf of the City. The genesis for this push came from the business agents and organizers from the affiliates of the Building and Construction Trades Council feeling that they had no support or recourse for mitigation when they found prevailing wage violations and the wage cheating by some of the contractors who were building our fire stations, libraries and other City facilities.
The first step that Mayor Brown facilitated to address our demands and needs was the creation of the first-in-the-nation Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (OLSE). This new office was charged with enforcing the City Charter that dictates prevailing wages for all City construction projects on City projects. (The office today has morphed and expanded to monitor and enforce over a dozen more worker laws that the building trades and labor councils advocated for and helped pass and is a model for worker protections throughout the country.)
Cheating still exists now, but twenty years ago we created a hammer by creating this new historic City department.
In the 1990s the building trades councils, throughout major cities in America, began to introduce “labor peace” agreements as leverage in city planning commission negotiations and other venues where both private and public entity developers agreed to ensure that all contractors comply with our collective bargaining agreements in exchange for “no strike” language. The concept was controversial for pure trade unionists, but history has shown that under PLAs, millions of hours of our union wages, health care and pension benefits went to our members and even non-union workers who would also be professionally trained in our apprenticeship programs and achieved the benefits of advancing their careers under high union standards.
These agreements were usually done on a project-by-project basis and became know as Project Labor Agreements (PLA’s.) The most famous and historic justification for this approach, which was challenged and then upheld by United States courts, was the PLA for the major renovation and clean-up of the massive Boston Harbor project in the 1990s.
But, as organizers, we wanted even more protection for our prevailing wage standard of living. So we started agitating for Citywide and countywide PLAs. Not just project by project. We wanted a bigger tent. This had to be done through the legislative process: City councils and Board of Superviors and school boards, etc.
What was different in San Francisco, this “beautiful and difficult” City, where the labor movement pushed and passed the first $15 minimum wage, the highest living wage, the closest thing to universal health care that Speaker Nancy Pelosi took to D.C., sick day benefits, card check union legislation for hotel workers, etc. - was that we still had groups of contractors (like everywhere in else in America) that didn’t want any regulations or labor standards. Let the “free market prevail:” The “Free Market,” I will remind everyone, is code for “greed” and underpaying workers. In San Francisco the anti-union forces fought us hard.
Ultimately with the help of our endorsed elected Supervisors, in particular, Aaron Peskin, Ahsha Safai and Sandra Fewer, and ultimately ramrodded to conclusion by Mayor London Breed, we prevailed. In San Francisco, with the leadership of our building trades unions we did not back down. We will continue to win and fight for the well-trained construction workers who build our City.
On another note the: The Building Trades Consolidated Craft City bargaining unit has begun negotiating with the City and County and have a unified front where we are not going to settle for minor raises during these good economic times after helping the City in previous years by taking unpaid furloughs and small raises during the bad times. We, in the trades, are caucusing with all the other unions in the City. And we will be united. All unions who have contracts with the City are going to fight together for our members. And I am proud of San Francisco union Solidarity.
To conclude: The entire east side of San Francisco is in development mode. Besides the Hunters Point Shipyard and the Warriors’ Chase Arena, which is being built with union labor, we also have India Basin, Mission Rock (Giants), Pier 70, Potrero Power plant, etc. in planning stages which will have huge opportunities for our members and I will keep you informed about the ongoing negotiations regarding these projects.