SELMA – When Selma’s City Council agreed to having a project labor agreement in place as they get set to build a new police station, the idea of giving local workers and apprentices a chance to do the work sounded like a good idea. However, building firms have shied away from working under that arrangement and now the Council is hoping a local union leader can help the city back out of that plan.
The latest decision regarding the new $8 million police station may lead to legal action if an agreement can’t be reached, however.
This was the most recent development that took place at the Oct. 15 City Council meeting.
Interim City Manager Isaac Moreno first gave an update on the projected cost of the new police station as being $6.52 million. When other costs such as architectural and engineering service fees, materials testing, special consultations, agency reviews and project management costs are factored in, the final price is $8,000,735. When the available funds are considered compared to the remaining expenses, there is a shortfall of $232,425.
While the original station plan was a 14,000-square-foot project, it’s now 10,000. Having the architect redesign it has added costs and Moreno cautioned that further changes would wind up only costing more.
“At this point, it’s actually going to cost you money if you reduce the internal effects of the structure itself. You have to take into account load-bearing walls and things of that nature,” he said. “If you start shifting and moving [walls], you’re going to actually have more costs incurred. Remember, you have electrical, plumbing and all that has to be reassessed.”
While Moreno is hopeful that a built-in contingency will make room for any increases in cost, there’s still no absolute guarantee more money beyond the $4 million in Measure P bond funds and another $4 million from the state will be enough to build the police station.
“To be frank, you’ve got to make sure there are no change orders and things of that nature. We’ll be close. There is a contingency built in, but you’ve got to remember [the cost will increase] if something happens like construction changes or things of that nature.”
The police station is set to be built next to the current City Hall on Third and Grove streets. When the project was first put out to bid, only one bid was returned at $7.95 million.
Builders in the audience that night said they flat-out refuse to work on projects with labor agreements.
General contractor Robert Berry said he’d been contacted to see if he was interested in bidding on the police station. But since he’s an open shop contractor and member of Associated Builders and Contractors, he declines to have his employees work under a project labor arrangement. He said if they did, workers would have to pay for fringe benefits they would not receive.
“When I was told it had a PLA, I told them I could not do that to my employees. If I went into a PLA agreement and paid fringes into the union plans, my employees would get no benefit from them. Besides that, I could only take five of my local, non-union employees, the way the PLA is written.”
Electrician Tim Bremer agreed. He said after 55 years of working in the Valley, he refuses to bid projects with PLAs and instead trains his own apprentices, many of whom still work for him.
“We will not bid a project with a PLA on it.”
Council members said as they get ready to send the project out to bid again they’re concerned they’ll wind up with the same results if the same labor requirements are attached to the project.
“We’ve heard testimony from two reputable individuals that if that joint [labor] language is in there, they’re not going to bid. That’s why we’re in this predicament. That joint requirement is what the issue is,” Councilwoman Yvette Montijo said.
Councilman Scott Robertson agreed saying it boils down to whether the apprentices working on the station are union, or not.
“This is what it’s coming down to. And if we bid this out and people like these aren’t going to bid on it again, we’re just going to get the same results. We’ve got to really bend and give some here.”
Council is working with Chuck Riojas who is the secretary/treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Fresno, Madera, Tulare and Kings Counties.
Riojas is advocating that Selma keep the project labor agreement in place. He believes the apprenticeship program they have in place is the best method to ensure workers in the building trades advance to the journeyman level.
“My desire is to put Selma residents into effective apprenticeships through this project. It’s not to make everybody union and take over the town.”
Riojas would also like to make sure that 30 to 40 percent of the crews working on the police station are local workers.
“I’m trying to get that document to accommodate those two issues and only those two issues. We do have a pre-apprenticeship class going on right now and those participants deserve an opportunity to go to work. The best way to do it is through this project.”
Nicole Goehring with the Associated Building and Contractors’ Northern California Chapter spoke against this saying the union requirement for the apprentices is discriminatory and limits which construction firms would be willing to work on the police station.
“There are other apprentices in this area who are not members of joint programs. I just want your community to be able to build your community in the best way possible and that’s to leave it open for the entire workforce and apprentices that are involved.”
Councilmembers said while they want locals to get work and new construction workers to gain experience, their priority is getting the police station built in a timely manner before costs escalate beyond the allotted $8 million budget.
“The reason I voted for this [project labor agreement] when we first heard about it was because of that apprenticeship and multiple-hire clause,” Councilman Scott Robertson said. “But what I’m not hearing is how we get rid of the other part of that PLA so we can get some people to bid on this. I’m hearing from all sorts of folks that because of the restrictive parts of the PLA, we’re not getting the response on the bids.”
Selma City Attorney Bianca Sparks Rojas said she’s been in negotiations with Riojas and the city manager with a goal of preserving a local hire requirement and the apprenticeship program.
“We suggested we remove everything except those two provisions. Mr. Riojas said that would be a no-go and he’d rather kill the agreement than just amend it in that form. That’s when we put the ball in his court to work with the member unions that signed on to the agreement,” she said.
Yvette Montijo said since there are only five Selma residents who signed up for the apprentice program, the needs of the entire community should be considered a higher priority.
“I love the idea that you have those five guys [in the apprenticeship program], but versus the other 25,000 people in our city, we have to look at the cost-benefit ratio.”
Mayor Jim Avalos said he’d rather keep the original labor agreement as it was their initial plan.
“We had an agreement. I’m the kind of guy to honor an agreement and we’re bound by that.”
After much discussion, Council decided they’d rather rescind the apprenticeship requirement and just offer what state labor laws require when it comes to hiring construction workers.
Riojas said he’ll now negotiate with the unions and Council has given him an Oct. 26 deadline to return an answer. Changing the agreement however will require up to 22 different unions to agree to any new language. And if they don’t, there could be legal action.
“We have to look at rescinding that contract and going forward with another bid,” Robertson said. “To do that, it’s legal and there are legal ramifications there.”
At that point, Sparks Rojas said the matter would need to be discussed in closed session as there would be potential litigation.
The matter will return to the Council at the Nov. 5 meeting.