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Laborers Local 261’s Robert Harrison and Op Engineers Local 3 apprentice Meganne Pryor spoke of the importance of training opportunities in the building trades. With Local 261’s Vince Courtney. - Photo by Paul Burton

San Francisco Signs Historic Labor Agreement for Sewer System Infrastructure Program, Will Create Thousands of Jobs

By Paul Burton Contributing Writer

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) celebrated the signing of a Project Labor Agreement for the City’s Sewer System Improvement Program (SSIP) on August 4 at a community center next to the SFPUC’s Southeast Wastewater Treatment facility. The SSIP is a multi-billion dollar, 20-year capital investment that will build a healthier, more reliable and seismically-resilient sewer system. Work will include sewer line and pump station upgrades, developing sustainable methods to manage storm water, and modernization and seismic upgrades to waste water treatment facilities. SFPUC Commissioner and Laborers Local 261 Political Director Vince Courtney said that the Project Labor Agreement would ensure that more reliable and seismically safe projects would be delivered on time.

“The PLA will also help cultivate a local workforce and ensure that contractors pay prevailing wages,” Courtney said. “Jobs, training and good benefits are why we are excited about the PLA.”

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said the PLA isn’t just about pipelines that convey water, but pipelines for careers.

“The unions are feeders for workers to get into great jobs,” Lee said. “The PLA will be directly beneficial to local workers.”

“Public infrastructure investments are more than just shovels in the ground,” Lee continued. “They are investments in people and our local communities. We’re creating thousands of blue collar jobs for the region and career training opportunities for San Franciscans. We want to make sure that the water system infrastructure works for everyone, and that the water is safe and clean for everyone in San Francisco.”

Mayor Lee said he was excited that the PLA with building trades unions creates opportunities for apprentices and pre-apprentices. “This is the pipeline we are building to make the city successful, where San Franciscans can learn skills and get into good paying jobs,” Lee said, noting that 77 percent of apprentices employed in the SFPUC’s Water System Improvement Project were San Francisco residents. “We wouldn’t have been able to make this progress without Labor working with us and the community.”

The PLA for the SSIP work is an extension to the PLA signed in 2007 for the SFPUC’s Water System Improvement Program (WSIP) that made upgrades to the pipelines, reservoirs, dams and pump stations that deliver and store water from the Hetch-Hetchy reservoir to the Bay Area. The WSIP continues to have a tremendous, positive impact on our local and regional economies, according to the SFPUC. Through June 2016, on WSIP PLA-covered projects, more than 12,600 workers have earned $460 million in wages and benefits. With WSIP winding down, SSIP will be the new job-creating engine, and unlike WSIP, SSIP will be entirely within the City.

“We knew we had to have harmony and reached out to the Building Trades,” Harlan L. Kelly, Jr., General Manager of the SFPUC, said when the SFPUC began its WSIP projects. “When we looked at hiring more local people, the unions helped, and came up with specialized training for projects – the WSIP is a great model for the SSIP. The training programs done in collaboration with Carpenters Local 22, Operating Engineers Local 3 and Laborers Local 261 train San Francisco residents in concrete form construction, heavy equipment GPS training, habitat restoration and a miner tender training.

“The Sewer System Improvement Program presents our City with unique opportunities to address chronic unemployment in communities impacted by construction projects,” Kelly said. “Our new and improved Southeast Wastewater Treatment Plant will revitalize the Bayview, improve the quality of life for residents and create good-paying jobs for San Franciscans.”

Two local residents now working in the building trades also spoke about the importance of the training opportunities that put them in a position to have careers in construction. Laborers Local 261 member Robert Harrison said he was able to get work with contractor Western Water after completing the 12-week pre-apprenticeship program through the community-based organization Young Community Developers. Meganne Pryor, an apprentice member of Operating Engineers Local 3, said she was excited, as a Bayview resident, to have an opportunity to work locally. She said she currently works on the Central Subway project.

“We are proud of the performance of the Water System agreement that we are extending,” said Michael Theriault, Secretary-Treasurer of the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council. “We have performed high-quality work on complex projects in the safest and timeliest manner, and as a result the City and its regional partners are assured of a secure and healthy water supply. We’ve done a great job with the SFPUC, City Build and community based organization to provide entry into lifelong careers for scores of young men and women from underprivileged communities. We look forward to more success in our continuing collaboration with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.”

The SSIP PLA will provide access to a steady supply of skilled union workers, pay family-sustaining prevailing wages and benefits, harmonize safety protocols at work sites, and help create careers in construction. It provides opportunities for local workers, local business enterprises, minority-owned business enterprises and women-owned business enterprises.

A press release from the SFPUC noted that, “PLAs are more than just economic ladders up; they also establish protocols that help ensure projects are delivered safely, both on-time and on-budget.” The first phase of SSIP features 70 projects; to-date, six have been completed, 10 are currently in construction and many more are in the pipeline.

Theriault said that without the sewer systems there are no comfortable neighborhoods, no high-rises.

“This is an essential part of San Francisco’s infrastructure that we will be upgrading,” Theriault said. “The bay and the ocean will be cleaner. People will be proud to talk about how they worked on the sewer system improvements.”

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