VISTA — It was a heated and spirited discussion during the Sept. 10 Vista City Council meeting regarding a project labor agreement in front of the Vista Unified School District.
A resolution for the city to oppose the PLA passed 3-2, with Councilwomen Corinna Contreras and Amanda Rigby voting against the resolution. Rigby, though, said while she is fully against PLAs, her reason was because she believes the council was overstepping its responsibility.
The item was brought forward by Councilmen John Franklin and Joe Green, who are concerned Measure LL, the $247 million school bond approved in 2018, would lose a significant amount of money for improvements if a PLA was put in place.
The VUSD Board of Education will vote on the matter during its Sept. 12 meeting.
“I raised it because I care about the kids in the community,” Franklin said. “If I have to choose sides, I’m on the side of kids. I’ll do whatever I can in my power to make sure kids don’t continue to go to school in trailers.”
He also railed against union leaders showing up at his personal residence, saying it was clear they understand kids will continue to attend school and go to class in trailers if a PLA is passed.
According to VUSD, if a PLA is approved, it will have to negotiated what phase it will being.
Measure LL is a five-phase improvement project with more than 100 projects listed. One of the goals, according to the project list, is to remove and demolish 355 portable classrooms throughout the district.
Opponents say a PLA will reduce the amount of money available for construction and instead divert those funds into union coffers. They also said PLAs intentionally box out non-union workers and contractors, forcing any who do work on a PLA to pay union benefits and stifles competition.
Proponents said PLAs ensure local hires and money spent back into Vista’s economy; guarantee prevailing wages, work conditions and benefits; meet deadlines and come in under budget. They also stumped for the qualified workers, noting they are highly trained and effective.
However, others against the PLA include the bond oversight committee, with one representative, a former union worker, saying the bond would not have been considered if a PLA were to be included.
In addition, opponents noted how Vista voters struck down a ballot initiative in 2010 to require PLAs with an “overwhelming” 77% of the vote. Green and Franklin also said if a PLA is passed, it would be increasingly difficult to pass another because voters were lied to by the VUSD board.
Former VUSD board member Jim Gibson said at the current school board members have received campaign donations from unions and the PLA is “pay back” for the donations. VUSD board member Cipriano Vargas also works as a political organizer for Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Sarah Polito, an attorney for the district, said during the Aug. 15 VUSD meeting, the potential for a 25% increase in costs poses a threat to completing all five phases and does not guarantee local hires, but rather sets it as a goal. She said a PLA could cost the district up to $59 million.
Green said it was reported by oversight committee and a VUSD attorney said a PLA could remove between $20 million to $40 million from projects.
“The school district’s agenda that came out had no staff report,” Green said. “The reality is, is the $1 million funds lost is too much. If you can prove to me that you’re going to do every project that you guaranteed the voters within budget and it’s not going to change, show me the numbers. As of now, those numbers haven’t been shown.”
Contreras, meanwhile, railed against the resolution stating the council had no business trying to tell the VUSD board how to act or vote.
“I’m very disappointed that this was brought forth,” she said. “This is the second highly partisan item brought to the council. It just does not make sense to have this discussion.”
Several others chided the council for overstepping its bounds by introducing the item, saying they need to relay those concerns individually to the board.
Vista resident Nico Ferraro said he opposed the resolution because of his experience with PLA’s, noting it’s a tool to save taxpayer money and transition programs. He listed a number of projects built with PLAs including Petco Park.
“Skill labor is not cheap, cheap labor is not skill,” he said.
Jared Dorsey, of the Local 619 carpenters union and a North County resident, said productivity increases with union work, adding the educational opportunities afforded by unions.
“This has been a great career for myself,” he said. “They misclassify their workers; they pay them a lower rate … which is theft of workers and taxpayers.”