Democrats on the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday are expected to rubber stamp a plan replacing the county’s low-bid system for publicly funded construction projects with a program restricting such work to union contractors.
The proposal, by Supervisors Joan Hartman and Das Williams, comes a few months after fellow Supervisor Gregg Hart, then a city council member, rammed through an equivalent scheme in the city of Santa Barbara. Both the city and county policies involve the use of so-called Project Labor Agreements, or PLAs.
A rote feature of Democratic Party ideology, support for PLAs is featured in the platform of the Santa Barbara County party organization, among countless others across the nation.
As a practical matter, PLAs portend higher costs for taxpayers, by effectively limiting competition in bidding amid Santa Barbara’s largely non-union contracting industry, and by increasing costs per worker for union mandated fringe benefits.
At the same time, greater payments to pension and health benefit plans provide a direct economic boost to crafts unions, such as those representing electricians, plumbers and carpenters, which have donated tens of thousands of dollars to the campaigns of Democratic officials and apparatchiks who support them.
As a bottom line political matter, the PLA issue represents a case study of a campaign finance system that motivates politicians to favor the special interests who fund their races for office over taxpayers who pay for their public salaries, benefits and pensions.
Rebranding the product. Lots of kabuki but little drama is likely as the supervisors are scheduled this morning to take up the ordinance proposed by Hartmann and Williams, both of whom are up for re-election next year.
Amid pro and con testimony featuring much of the same cast of characters and many of the same arguments that clashed at the city council, Hart is expected to join his two Democratic colleagues to pass the measure.
After a bruising fight over the PLA at city council, the county measure has been rebranded as a “Community Workforce Agreement,” a type of PLA that includes a “targeted hiring provision.”
The presentation to the board, prepared by Williams aide and Democratic operative Darcel Elliott, highlights this feature, basically a form of affirmative action program aimed at placing women, minorities and low-income workers in union apprenticeship programs, over less politically attractive issues like, oh say, the cost to taxpayers.
Links to all of the documents in the presentation of the issue may be found here.
Look for daily coverage of the hearing in both the Independent and Noozhawk. We’ll be back with more analysis later in the week.