Perhaps softer than the sound of a union rallying cry is the quiet protest some voters are staging at the ballot box, speaking out against union contracts they say are too costly.
“You are getting less product for a higher price and we believe in quality, accountability and value,” says Eric Christen of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, a group that lobbies on behalf of non-union contractors.
Christen says that voters in many communities throughout the Golden State are frustrated by the cost of union labor.
None more than the city of Chula Vista, a small community near San Diego, which Christen says lost a contract for a 32-acre hotel and entertainment complex because union leaders scared off investors by demanding a Project Labor Agreement (PLA), a term used to describe a legal agreement common between union contractors and public agencies.
And while Gaylord Entertainment, the sponsors of that project, will not confirm that organized labor kept them from pursuing the venture further, Christen says voters in Chula Vista responded this June by officially banning city officials from engaging in union agreements when negotiating future construction.
Meanwhile, union leaders say organized labor is bearing the brunt of the bad economy and the retribution some voters currently seek is misplaced.
“We have not found any evidence that project labor agreements have a negative effect on the cost of a project,” says Richard Slawson, executive secretary for the Building Trades Council of Los Angeles and San Diego Counties, a local division of the AFL-CIO.
Slawson cites a report published by the City of Los Angeles that concludes: “PLAs provide for orderly settlements of the labor disputes and grievances without strikes, lockouts or slowdowns.”
Slawson adds that union contractors abide by rules that independent workers often do not: “These are the same contractors that oppose safety regulations, that have all the violations for safety regulations that OSHA files. These are the contractors that are hiring undocumented workers to supplement their crews and take jobs that Americans do want.”
But more communities are taking Chula Vista’s lead.