Santa Barbara County staff will use a template developed by the city of Santa Barbara to draft a community workforce agreement, which will govern bidding and hiring for public construction projects, but without negotiating with local stakeholders to develop its terms.

The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2, with supervisors Bob Nelson and Steve Lavagnino dissenting, to direct the staff to work only with the Tri-Counties Building and Construction Trades Council to develop a draft workforce agreement.

Opponents of the decision said it will discriminate against small, local, nonunion companies, lead to higher project prices and reduce the quality of work on county projects.

Lavagnino, who represents the 5th District, didn’t support developing a community workforce agreement, also known as a CWA, at all.

“I really think if this was a pressing issue, [Public Works Director] Scott McGolpin … would have brought this to us a long time ago and said, ‘This is something we need to do,’” Lavagnino said.

He said he didn’t see why the county should discriminate against local contractors it has been doing business with for a long time, that hire local workers and that do a good job.

“I don’t see what’s broken right now,” Lavagnino said.

But if the county was going to develop a CWA, both he and Nelson wanted to use the one the board conceptually approved in 2014 but never adopted because one trade union refused to sign it.

“I don’t think we should cede county policy to the city of Santa Barbara,” said Nelson, who represents the 4th District. “We wouldn’t cede our land use policy to the city of Santa Maria. Why would we cede this to the city of Santa Barbara?”

Like Lavagnino, Nelson also wanted the staff to negotiate with all stakeholders to develop the CWA.

“I think [that’s] already taken place,” said 1st District Supervisor Das Williams, referring to the 2014 agreement in echoing a previous comment by 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart, who ultimately moved to use Santa Barbara’s template to develop the county's CWA.

Nelson also wanted a provision that if bids on a project came in 10% or more higher than the engineer’s estimate, the project would be rebid both with and without a CWA, but that was not part of Hart’s motion.

A CWA is a prenegotiated labor agreement between a project owner — in this case, the county — and the construction and trade unions.

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Opinion among public speakers at the meeting was roughly split, with union representatives favoring a CWA and nonunion business owners opposing it.

Proponents said it will assure the health and safety of workers, set minimum security requirements, provide highly skilled labor and assure comparable wages and benefits for workers across multiple crafts.

Opponents said it would prevent small, local, nonunion contractors from bidding competitively by increasing their costs, which would reduce the number of bidders and lead to higher costs for a project, and would increase the number of nonlocal contractors being used.

Although McGolpin said the county’s goal for developing a CWA was to increase the number of local companies and workers on projects, the 2014 conceptual CWA only called for 45% local contractors, and Santa Barbara’s CWA sets the goal at just 50%.

Yet county officials said from 2008 to 2021, county construction projects involved 88% local workers, excluding the Northern Branch Jail project that had 43.3% local workers.

Opponents also claimed workers would have to change their health insurance, would end up paying money into union trusts they would never receive any benefits from and that they became nonunion workers out of choice.

“I actually don’t believe that for one minute,” Williams said of the last claim. “Workers tend to want the job that pays best and has better benefits. And generally … union workers get better wages than nonunion workers.”

He said they are nonunion because they’re “going for the work they know they can get,” and he also rejected the statistics about local labor on county projects.

“I think using a statistic like [almost] 90% that excludes the biggest job we’ve had anytime recently is just not an accurate picture at all,” he said, noting the county is on a “desperate mission” to protect its middle class.

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said the main issues for her were hiring local contractors, obtaining quality work and assuring workers safety, so she supported the CWA.

“In general, I’m very supportive of the concept of unions and collective bargaining and the empowerment of employees,” she said.

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