Michael Theriault headshot

Those who follow the Council's meeting minutes will have long known that Supervisor Mark Farrell has introduced legislation establishing a Citywide project labor agreement (PLA) policy.

That policy would state that City work meeting certain requirements would be subject to a PLA, which the City Administrator would negotiate with us.

Foremost among these requirements is the dollar value of a project, or "threshold," above which the PLA would apply, below which it would not. Farrell's legislation makes the threshold $1 million. In May's column I gave reasons for the lowest possible threshold. $1 million is not that; the threshold could well be lower, and we in the Council see no good reason why it should not.

We are, however, trying to be political realists. $1 million is the threshold in our PLA with the San Francisco Unified School District for work under the 2011 bond measure. $1 million is the threshold in several other PLA policies around the Bay, some of which have been in effect for years. No one can claim that the number has no local precedent or has proven to be a problem anywhere.

Some in City government and out are trying to make just such claims. They argue for thresholds that would make a PLA policy meaningless to us and to the workers whom we work to advance.

Those outside City government fighting the policy include national anti-union organizations. For this, and also for the fact that we would become the largest city in the country with such a policy (some agencies in Los Angeles have had comparable policies for larger volumes of work than would be covered here, but not the City of Los Angeles itself), our local fight has gone national.

One anti-union organization that has come into San Francisco to oppose us, the Associated Builders and Contractors, on its own website gives former United States Senator from Alabama and current Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions a 100% legislative rating and our own Nancy Pelosi 0%.

Another, the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, has sent Eric Christen to City Hall. While on the school board of Colorado Springs, Christen signed a petition against any involvement of government in education – against public education itself, then. His Twitter feed is a pig slop of screeds against transgender individuals, Islam, and immigrants, among others, with links to Breitbart News.

Feel free, please, to look any of this up.

Neither organization sees any chance of stopping Farrell's legislation outright. Instead, they seek to gut it.

Christen brought a sheet of proposed amendments to Farrell's legislation to the offices of San Francisco Supervisors. Among these amendments was one to inflate the threshold to a value that exactly matches one proposed from some quarters within City government.

Let us be clear what this means: An individual whose values are as antithetical to San Francisco's as can be imagined has somewhere in City government, if not an ally, then someone exactly of like mind on the issue of threshold in our San Francisco debate on PLAs.

This alignment puts that element of City government into opposition to the cause of working women and men across the country. If a PLA policy with a $1 million threshold can be approved here, it will serve as precedent in many other big cities. If it cannot, in this supposed bastion of unions as champions for workers and their families, even those cities that now have PLA thresholds the same or even lower will be under immense pressure to raise them. The enemies of unions understand this well.

We are told that the witting or unwitting City opponents of workers have taken their stand because they fear PLAs will keep small, local, and minority-owned contractors from City work.

This is simply nonsense.

Our School District PLA, with its $1 million threshold, has had substantial participation by contractors small, local, or minority-owned, and even by non-union contractors. What the PLA demands of non-union contractors is not that they become union-signatory, but that they hire some of their journeylevel workers and all of their apprentices from our halls and that they pay all their workers, union or not, wages and benefits according to our agreements. All contractors are legally required to pay at this level anyway – to pay "prevailing wage" – on public work. They may choose not to work under a PLA, sometimes because they have little intention of actually paying the required wage, but the PLA does not at all exclude them.

Any San Francisco politician or official who wonders what stand to take on the legislation, then, should consider three points: The PLA policy with a $1 million threshold excludes no contractor. It better assures workers the compensation legally due them – that is, it is an effective worker protection.

And because it is now a national matter, anyone who supports it can take pride in this support here and nationally. Anyone who does not had better be prepared to explain why not both here and nationally, and to suffer here and nationally the shame of his or her position if the explanation is not absolutely convincing.

Organized Labor


Sign Up Now


Go to top