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Union Labor Raises School Construction Bill

November 23, 2003

Santa Ana Unified School District construction manager Jerry Hills identified the primary reason for the escalating costs of construction as too few bidders.

The reduced competition has driven the cost of the new Segerstrom High School from the original estimate of $56 million to $118 million. The redesign of the school from 1,800 to 2,500 students does not warrant this 210% escalation in costs.

In 1999 the school board signed a five-year contract with the construction labor unions ensuring all of this work would be controlled by organized labor. All rock, sand and concrete for the new schools must be delivered by union drivers. Only three of 10 of these suppliers in Orange County employ union workers.

This contract, known as a project labor agreement, provides no apparent benefit to the school district, but the Santa Ana Unified School District Board of Trustees received campaign contributions from these unions.

Both the Capistrano and Anaheim school districts projects are on time and on budget. They have no union agreements.

Taxpayers and students deserve facilities built without politics driving up the cost.

Construction costs can only be reduced by facilitating the participation of more bidders. The school board needs to recognize the failure of this program and not renew its union contract in 2004.

Russell Patterson

Villa Park

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The government-mandated project labor agreement for the Santa Ana Unified School District's construction plan is part of the sordid legacy of disgraced trustee Nativo Lopez, who passed it in order to pay back the unions that helped to elect him. The labor agreement passed even though less than 20% of the local workforce is unionized, and less than 13% of Latino workers belong to unions.

Project labor agreements bar nonunion construction companies from bidding on public works projects, unless they agree to send their workers to the union hiring hall. The resulting drop in bidders always reduces competition and increases costs. Both nonunion and closed shops must pay prevailing wages on public works. The difference in price results from competitive pressures and the union work rules, which also increase costs.

Art Pedroza

Director, government affairs,

Coalition for Fair Employment

in Construction

Santa Ana

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