The San Diego City Council unanimously approved a seven-year citywide project labor agreement (PLA) that will apply to every city project that costs more than $5 million in the first two years and $1 million projects for the following years, rewarding a years-long effort by SM Local 206 and the San Diego Building Trades to raise working standards in the city. The vote, which took place on January 30, followed a successful referendum in November 2023, when San Diego citizens voted to repeal the city’s decade-long ban on PLAs.
“For decades, San Diego was a test lab for what comes when a greedy, conservative establishment runs a big city,” San Diego City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “It doesn’t work. This place is too expensive, folks aren’t paid enough, and more and more people are wondering how the hell they will continue to live in San Diego.”
PLAs help prevent worker exploitation and construction delays by setting wages, safety standards and regulations at union-negotiated levels, providing stronger pay and organizing complex jobs to be completed on time (saving taxpayer dollars in the process). They also frequently include local hire requirements and goals for employing historically disadvantaged workers, such as homeless people, veterans and more.
In a city that awards more than 100 contracts (approximately) for construction projects each year, the new San Diego PLA promises years of work for SMART members and construction workers in a city growing ever more expensive to live in. That’s a big deal for working-class people across San Diego, and it’s due in large part to the determination and advocacy of unions like Local 206 in spearheading the successful Measure D referendum.
“I’m very proud to say that our members drove the bus on the passage of Measure D,” said Dave Gauthier, Local 206 business manager and financial secretary-treasurer. “We gave up our weekends and weeknights to repeal the largest PLA ban in the country. Negotiating for and winning this citywide PLA is literally the fruit of our labor, and I’m so happy to share this victory with the entire membership.
“Not only will this PLA provide new career opportunities for our community and more work for our members, it will also help us grow our membership numbers and our contractor base for years to come. We can proudly say that San Diego is now officially a union town!”
The victory on both Measure D and the citywide PLA negotiations demonstrates the importance of members getting involved in the political process. It also showed the power of solidarity across SMART and the labor movement, Gauthier explained.
“We couldn’t have done this without assistance from others in our union,” he said. “We received contributions from the SMART PAL (Political Action League) fund, the Western States Council PAC fund, the California State Building Trades Council and SMART Local 104. We organized a union-first campaign, and we should all celebrate the win together.”