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.

Local 206 Business Manager/Financial Secretary-Treasurer Dave Gauthier testifies on the importance of PLAs.

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.”

Members of SMART SM Local 206 joined fellow union workers from the San Diego Building Trades on September 26 to usher through a historic victory for workers in the area, with La Mesa, Calif., becoming the first city in San Diego County to pass a citywide project labor agreement (PLA).

The PLA, negotiated between the city of La Mesa and the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council, was approved unanimously, and will ensure union pay, benefits and protections for all construction workers on city of La Mesa public works projects.

“Personal politics aside, most of our members know and understand that our local will only endorse and support labor-friendly candidates and legislation,” said Local 206 Business Manager Dave Gauthier. “When we support those that support livable wages and a full family benefit package, our members and our communities do better as a whole.”

“When we support those that support livable wages and a full family benefit package, our members and our communities do better as a whole.”

– SMART Local 206 Business Manager Dave Gauthier

Project labor agreements benefit workers, contractors, project owners and citizens alike by organizing complex construction projects, creating jobs for local community members, providing the necessary skilled trades workforce for complicated jobs. They also help bring projects in on time and under budget – ultimately saving taxpayer money. By providing union-protected wages and benefits for all workers, project labor agreements help lift area residents – including historically disadvantaged and underrepresented communities – into the middle class. They also benefit local unions, with many PLAs including union hiring hall requirements.

Local 206 members and other building trades workers showed up to the September 26 La Mesa City Council meeting to speak in favor of the La Mesa PLA – illustrating the difference it makes when SMART members get involved in the political process. Such activism will continue to be crucial as local unions work to take advantage of a union-friendly political climate and funding from federal legislation signed into law by President Biden. Additionally, Gauthier added, pushing for pro-labor legislation like PLAs helps demonstrate the union advantage to working people everywhere.  

“Explaining the benefits of local hire and project labor agreements is actually pretty easy when speaking to working-class people,” he said. “When you tell folks that these agreements benefit their neighbors who wake up early every morning and lace up their work boots, and when they understand that their tax dollars are then being redistributed in the local economy, you can really see the light come on in their eyes. They get it, and then they get what we in labor are all about.”

SMART members and fellow workers from the San Diego Building Trades.

The SM Local 206 (San Diego, Calif.) SMART Army helped secure the future for themselves and their fellow workers in La Mesa, Calif. on March 14 — making their voices heard, loud and clear, as the city council voted in favor of a project labor agreement (PLA) in La Mesa.

“The City of La Mesa’s 5–0 Council vote to negotiate a citywide PLA was a huge success for our SMART Army and members of all trades in La Mesa and San Diego County,” said Local 206 Financial Secretary-Treasurer and Business Manager Dave Gauthier.

The citywide PLA legislation, introduced by La Mesa City Councilmembers Colin Parent and Patricia Dillard, will help ensure city construction projects are performed by local union members, with strong wage guarantees, local hire provisions and other stipulations that will lift up working families across the community. By showing up and fighting for themselves and their fellow workers, the members of Local 206 helped guarantee that public projects in La Mesa will benefit local residents — and provided an example of how SMART members across North America can collectively influence their working conditions.

“Congrats to the city of La Mesa for voting unanimously to enter into a Project Labor Agreement,” the San Diego Building Trades wrote on Twitter. “PLAs are good for workers, good for taxpayers, and good for the local economy.”

Thanks to the efforts of SMART Local 104 and other union members across Northern California, workers in cities like Vallejo stand to benefit from the better wages, local hire provisions and strong apprenticeship standards guaranteed by a project labor agreement. These victories, part of Local 104’s ongoing Campaign for Jobs, demonstrate the power unions have to effect real change for working families when rank-and-file members stand together.

A citywide project labor agreement (PLA) is a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement between a city and a local building and construction trades council that governs the terms and conditions of public works projects, protecting taxpayer money by providing projects that are built on-budget and on-time with the use of local and skilled workers. In other words, PLAs help put union members to work, provide greater apprenticeship opportunities for the union members of the future, and keep local jobs in local communities.

“We often refer to PLAs as “Prevailing wages, Local hire and Apprenticeship,” Local 104 wrote in its recent members’ journal. “They promote apprentice opportunities and ensure that workers’ wages and benefits are protected.”

SMART Local 104 members rally at the Vallejo City Council for a PLA and to create union jobs in Northern California
Local 104 members pose for a picture at the Vallejo City Council meeting after rallying for a citywide project labor agreement and union jobs in Northern California.

On January 17th, 2023, the city of Vallejo, Calif. brought forward a workshop for residents and city officials to discuss PLAs and the possibility of a future citywide project labor agreement. Local 104 Vallejo residents showed up in force with their fellow workers, where they spoke to the benefits of PLAs on local communities, workers, families and economies. The end result: The Vallejo City Council voted to begin PLA negotiations with the Napa/Solano Counties Building Trades Council.

“PLAs will create more local apprenticeship opportunities in the city of Vallejo, and Vallejo is well-deserving of a PLA because we have a lot of union members who live here and raise their families here,” said Local 104 Business Representative Alicia Mijares. “Because of members turning out, we were able to sway the council and deliver this to a formal negotiation. Thank you to the members of Local 104 who came out and made a difference!”

The Vallejo victory is only the latest in an ongoing string of labor agreements for Local 104 members. In October 2022, more than 30 Local 104 members joined the Sacramento Building Trades to support a citywide Community Workforce and Training Agreement (CWTA) for the city of Elk Grove. The Sacramento Building Trades had previously tried to secure an agreement with the city without success – but when a CWTA on the Sky River Casino project in Elk Grove delivered a finished project earlier than projected and under budget, the city realized the effectiveness and efficiency of trained, skilled, union labor. As SMART members and union workers looked on, the Elk Grove City Council voted 4-1 in favor of a citywide CWTA.

One month earlier, Local 104 members gathered with San Joaquin Building Trades workers to pack the Lathrop City Council meeting and call for a CWTA on an upcoming city of Lathrop corporation yard. And once again, the solidarity of organized labor proved decisive: The Lathrop City Council voted unanimously to approve the CWTA, which will cover new construction of a maintenance facility, evidence storage facility and a new office building for the city, creating more union jobs in northern California.

“While Local 104 continues to fight for labor agreements across the map, we’d like to thank every member and ally that showed up in support of the efforts mentioned, as well as any and all Campaign for Jobs actions to secure hours of work for our members,” the local concluded.

Prince George’s (PG) County in Maryland is currently considering a project labor agreement (PLA) for the county’s blueprint schools program, which will use a public-private partnership model for more than $1 billion in school construction in the county. The PLA, which has faced opposition from entities like the Association of Builders and Contractors, would be crucial for local SMART members and working families, particularly those from historically underserved communities.   

SMART News was on the scene as SMART members, local building trades workers and allies rallied in Greenbelt, Maryland on February 15th for a town hall hosted by PG County At-Large Councilmember Mel Franklin, Jr. on the school construction project. Brandishing signs that read “Local Jobs for Local Residents,” “Union Jobs = Quality Jobs” and more, workers from SMART, IUPAT DC 51, Plumbers Local 5, Mid-Atlantic Carpenters union, Steamfitters Local 602, Iron Workers Local 5 and pro-labor advocates made their voices heard on the need for a PLA.

Watch coverage of the rally for a project labor agreement in Prince George’s County on SMART News

“I’m a Prince George’s resident, and I may have done one job in Prince George’s County in over a decade,” SMART Local 100 (Washington, DC-area) member and PG County resident Antonio Palmer explained to SMART News. “We want to be able to have an equal opportunity, as Prince George’s County union members, to be able to work within the county.”

“Everyone deserves a wage that can sustain a family here in Prince George’s County,” Progressive Maryland Executive Director Larry Stafford, Jr. told the crowd ahead of the town hall. “And that applies to our school construction!”

“One of the greatest ways we can protect Prince George’s County residents is through a Project Labor Agreement,” added PG County Councilmember Edward P. Burroughs III.

During the town hall, multiple union workers conveyed the importance of PLAs to Councilmember Franklin and Jason Washington, director of the PG County Public Schools Office of Alternative Infrastructure Planning and Development. Workers stressed that merely having prevailing wage on public school construction isn’t enough – by using a project labor agreement, the county can better ensure fair pay, local hiring provisions and fight back against worker misclassification. Additionally, some added, putting local union members to work on local schools sends a strong message to PG County students who are interested in the trades.

“It’s really huge that we have this, because it helps bring the work and the money right back into Prince George’s County,” said SMART Local 100 member and PG County resident Victor Champion.

“I’ve been travelling to Virginia for over 17 years to work,” added Local 100 member and PG County resident Warren Hackley. “I think we should have a fair opportunity to work within the Prince George’s County area.”

Unprecedented infrastructure investment continues to create jobs for SMART sheet metal workers across the country. That includes Connecticut, where a project labor agreement is putting SMART Local 40 sheet metal members to work at Bradley International Airport.

“It’s a fantastic thing. We have a bunch of different people, not only from my local but overall in the Connecticut building trades, doing the background work, talking to the right folks so that we can go in there and make good, living wages” said Local 40 journeyperson Manny Heredia in an interview with SMART News.

Watch Nimmons and Heredia discuss new work for members on SMART News.

The jobs Local 40 members will perform are part of approximately $230 million of work on the airport, which will see a total overhaul of the airport’s baggage handling area. Approximately $20 million of that amount is from federal infrastructure legislation, which included strong hiring incentives that benefit union members.

“We’re going to do energy efficient upgrades to the terminal, HVAC improvements which will include indoor air quality, MERV 13 or better air filters because it is an airport where everyone’s coming in, with all the airborne illnesses we’ve had,” Local 40 Regional Manager John Nimmons told SMART News.

“We are becoming a go-to trade, because people are realizing these buildings do need to have great ventilation systems,” Heredia added.

In the past, Nimmons explained, any renovations on Bradley International Airport would likely have been performed by nonunion workers. However, current Governor Ned Lamont sought the support of the Connecticut Building Trades during both of his election campaigns, and in return, he has acted in support of union workers.

“We now get to reap the benefits of jobs going our way with just the stroke of the governor’s pen,” Nimmons added. “All four years of our apprenticeship classes are full – we’re actively recruiting journeypersons and apprentices. The workload we have under project labor agreements, public and private in the state of Connecticut, looks very good over the next two-and-a-half to three years.”