Nearly Four Years On, City Supes Meet to Evaluate Historic Deal With the Building Trades

By Jacob Bourne | contributing writer

On February 18, 2019, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to adopt the Citywide Project Labor Agreement, a historic deal to let the City negotiate a single collective PLA with the building trades covering an array of projects under the jurisdiction of the departments of Public Works and Recreation and Parks.

A Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee meeting last month provided an assessment of how effectively the Citywide PLA has promoted financial benefits and timely completion for PLA-covered projects, and how well it has supported local businesses and the local workforce.

The findings suggest that the PLA has mostly performed quite well, especially in terms of workforce development.

“This has become a national model,” said District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai. “It’s successful. It’s a pathway for employment for many people who wouldn’t necessarily have an opportunity to get into the trades. That’s something we should all be uplifting and celebrating.”

The agreement has notched several major accomplishments. Fifty pre-job meetings have been coordinated across all of the PLA’s projects since its adoption. No strikes, lockouts, or work stoppages have occurred since the legislation went into effect.

“Our ambition is to ensure the success of the Citywide [PLA] in a manner that it can be a model for other cities throughout the country,” said SF Office of Labor Standards Enforcement Director Patrick Mulligan.

So far, 288 letters of assent have been signed by contractors working under the terms of the PLA, indicating that the agreement also creates value for the local construction industry.

“Regardless of whether they were signatory to a union before they were awarded the work, those contractors who signed letters of assent represent individual contractors and, importantly, workers and crews,” said SF Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Rudy Gonzalez. “Those workers and crews will have an equal playing field and access to the same gold standard of healthcare, the same safety standards, and the same wage standards — regardless of whether or not they were union before or they become union afterwards.

“I think the great equalizing force has had a positive impact on the industry and outcomes for workers.”

Joshua Arce, a representative from the Northern California Laborers Union, shared insights that further highlight the success of the Citywide PLA. Arce emphasized tangible positives that the PLA has brought to the local workforce and the construction industry in San Francisco.

“We’re now seeing some of the benefits of this work,” Arce said, citing the City’s annual local-hire report, which underscores how partnerships fostered by the PLA are enhancing working-class San Franciscans’ participation in projects. “In the most recent year, we observed that 34% of the overall workforce on local-hire projects were from the local community, with a remarkable 51% of local apprentices. These percentages increase dramatically when a PLA is in place: 51% local workforce and 80% local apprentices.”

This data indicates not only that the Citywide PLA has been successful in promoting local employment but also that it’s helping considerably in nurturing new local talent through apprentice work. The increase in local apprenticeship participation, in particular, is a testament to the PLA’s ability to create paths in the trades for many individuals who might not have had such opportunities otherwise.

By ensuring equitable employment opportunities and fostering local workforce participation, the PLA directly contributes to putting workers back to work. That fact alone is especially worthy of note in this difficult post-Covid era for the City. It’s not just about rebuilding structures; it’s about revitalizing the City’s economic heartbeat. The agreement’s role in stimulating construction activity extends beyond the immediate impact on the labor force; it’s a catalyst for broader economic rejuvenation.

The Citywide PLA isn’t perfect, of course. District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan lauded the agreement’s benefits but pointed out that due to its being tied strictly to Public Works and Rec and Parks department projects, it doesn’t cover many of the vital affordable housing projects that the City needs. In other words: The PLA doesn’t go far enough.

During a time when cities throughout California and the U.S. are looking for sustainable ways to recover and thrive, San Francisco’s Citywide PLA stands out as a beacon of progressive labor policy. It demonstrates an ability to affect better outcomes for workers, industry, and government alike — a real win-win-win. It also provides an object lesson in how strategic planning and commitment to fair labor practices and decent pay are capable of laying the groundwork for a robust economic resurgence.

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