The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday narrowly approved negotiation of a Community Workforce Agreement, advancing a measure that has been in the making for nearly seven years.
Supervisors voted 3-2 to direct Public Works staff to negotiate the agreement, utilizing a template created by the city of Santa Barbara earlier this year.
After deliberations Tuesday, Board Chair Bob Nelson and Supervisor Steve Lavagnino were opposed to the board’s final conclusion. They said that more time was needed to negotiate with local stakeholders before advancing the agreement.
A CWA is a contractually binding negotiation and agreement between a project owner and the building construction and trade union. It requires that all contractors working on a project adhere to a collective bargaining agreement.
The county has never before used a CWA, but the Board of Supervisors has discussed the creation of a CWA for county projects since 2014.
The city of Santa Barbara’s CWA, which passed earlier this year, was negotiated with the Tri-County Building & Construction Trades Council. The city’s CWA outlines certain requirements for local participation, benefit plans and construction inspection.
During Tuesday’s meeting, union members, representatives and trade workers presented viewpoints both for and against the CWA measure, staking their claims during a lengthy public comment period. More than 30 public commenters presented their arguments before the board on Tuesday.
Those in favor of a CWA said the agreement ensures a steady supply of skilled labor, creates opportunities for local contractors and outlines provisions for worksite conditions.
Those opposed to the measure argued that it places an additional burden on nonunion contractors when bidding on projects.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the county’s Public Works Department said it estimates that a CWA could drive up bidding costs by 21% and therefore reduce the number of bids on a project.
Elias Garcia, a representative from the general contractors of California, told the supervisors he did not believe a CWA was necessary because “the county has already been successfully building projects without a CWA up until this point.”
The limitations of the proposed CWA would cause problems for union contractors in terms of assigning their workforce and paying benefits, he added.
“Our union contractors will face jurisdictional issues when deciding which unions to assign the work to, and our open shop folks will be subject to the difficulties of not being able to bring on their entire workforce that they’ve been working with in addition to paying benefits that they may never see,” Mr. Garcia said.
Other public commenters, however, went before the board Tuesday to voice support for the measure.
Among them was Jonathan Duran, a representative with Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters. He told the board that the CWA would help create opportunities for members of the local community.
“The proposal will help many hardworking men and women to land employment locally, earn a decent wage (and) keep tax dollars here in Santa Barbara County,” Mr. Duran said. “This should not be looked at as an expense, rather, consider this as a return on your investment.”
Similar to the public commenters, supervisors were largely divided over the way forward with the measure..
Supervisor Lavagnino said the board should not try to “sell” the CWA developed by the city of Santa Barbara as the “middle ground.” Instead, he said, the board should bring stakeholders to the table and include them in the discussion.
He said he was having a hard time finding a “compelling reason” to advance the measure without further deliberations.
“I see no reason why we’re going to discriminate against folks we currently do business that are doing an outstanding job who hire 100% local, have a lot of local people working for them, and a lot of them, like we talked about, are trying to form a middle class,” Mr. Lavagnino said. “I don’t know why we wouldn’t at least invite them to the table and say, ‘Let’s try to discuss this.’ ”
Other supervisors, including Das Williams and Joan Hartmann, who voted in favor of advancing the measure Tuesday, said that the CWA helps to ensure local workers are included in county projects. During his remarks at the meeting, Mr. Williams said a CWA helps to protect local workers and the region’s shrinking middle class.
“We want local workers, and we also want workers who are getting paid enough and getting enough benefits,” Mr. Williams said. “And it’s hard to set a bar, but it makes sense for us to set a bar. So for me that’s what this is about. It’s about us as a community having, in my view, a desperate mission to protect what is left of our middle class.”
After deliberations among board members, Supervisors Williams, Hartmann and Gregg Hart voted in favor of advancing CWA negotiations.