VISTA — In a contentious and often raucous room, the Vista Unified School District Board of Education approved a project labor agreement 4-1 during its Sept. 12 meeting.
The four in favor — trustees Cipriano Vargas, Martha Alvarado, Debbie Morton and president Rosemary Smithfield — said those opposing the PLA did not present a strong enough case to warrant a no vote. The PLA, meanwhile, will be negotiated between district representative Vargas, who works as a political organizer for the Service Employees International Union, Superintendent Dr. Linda Kimble, and union personnel.
The PLA will be imposed on a portion of the $247 million school bond, known as Measure LL, and which has already broken ground on numerous projects for phase one. There are five phases and since no proposal, or staff report, was presented at the meeting, it is unclear when the PLA, which will only allow union contractors to bid on projects, will begin, according to district officials.
“The city of Vista has one of the highest poverty rates in North County,” Vargas said. “When I see a project labor agreement, I see it as an investment back into the community. What I see we can we do is make sure the bond that we passed, people from our community benefit from that.”
The meeting was the fourth time the board heard the matter, although it is not clear how the PLA was introduced in the first place. Regardless, the Sept. 12 meeting was packed as dozens of union works filled seats to champion PLAs, while a smaller gathering of non-union workers opposed.
As during the Aug. 15 meeting, both sides repeated many of the same claims to bolster their position. Union workers and representatives said PLAs source local jobs, boost local economies, have a highly skilled workforce and provide a prevailing wage and benefits.
“The thing I have difficulty with is I keep hearing that it’s going to cost more money, but when I ask for the facts, I’m never given the facts,” Smithfield said. “When I go to talk to different school districts, hospitals, cities that have used a PLA, and I say can you show me the facts, they pull out their paperwork.”
During the Sept. 12 meeting, those in support of the PLA also pointed to a San Diego Unified School District survey about its PLA and the benefits. Vargas said it showed no increase in costs and hired impoverished workers.
Opponents, however, railed against PLAs as they say they box out competition and siphon away funds from bonds to pay union consultants and operations, thus reducing the amount of money actually approved for school infrastructure improvements. Many speakers said the PLA could reduce the amount of money by millions forcing the trustees to cut numerous projects.
“This conversation should’ve occurred in September 2018,” said trustee Rich Alderson, a former teacher and in the union. “We had the community who did not realize that this might be a consideration. Based on the replies I’ve had, a significant number of them would not have voted for this.”