WATSONVILLE — The Watsonville City Council approved an ordinance Tuesday that will require contractors for future construction projects within the city to hire union workers.
The Council voted 5-1 for what is known as a project labor agreement, with Councilwoman Trina Coffman-Gomez dissenting and Councilwoman Nancy Bilicich absent.
Under a PLA, contractors must pay into union benefit plans and obey union work rules, according to Steve Palmisano, director of public works and utilities. Contractors must also hire union workers.
Non-union contractors must join a union for the duration of the project, Palmisano said.
All construction projects within Watsonville that cost at least $600,000 will be subjected to the PLA.
Palmisano said a PLA is beneficial in that it reduces the risks of construction delays from worker shortages or labor disputes.
"It's a way to bring harmony to a vary varied workgroup," he said.
According to Palmisano, a PLA increases the chance that local workers are hired for the jobs, but opponents say there is no guarantee that will be the case.
In a letter to the City Council, Paul Bruno, chief financial officer of Monterey Peninsula Engineering, said a PLA decreases competition and brings in more out of town contractors and their crews.
"They deny many hard-working, local residents the opportunity to work on projects that they are paying for with their tax dollars," he wrote.
Palmisano said non-union and local contractors will still be able to bid on projects, although they will have to join the union on a temporary basis.
Ron Chesshire, chief executive officer of Monterey/Santa Cruz Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, denied claims that PLAs exclude non-union workers and increase costs.
"Are they un-American? Are they unfair?" he asked. "No, they're not. They're perfectly legal."
Cesar Lara, Monterey Bay Central Labor Council executive director, praised the city's decision to pursue a PLA.
"I think it is an opportunity to really raise the standard of living here in the city of Watsonville," he said.
Katie Mahan, president of the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, said she was concerned that the city was rushing into the ordinance without having more dialogue.
"We're concerned about an ordinance that, by its very nature, is discriminatory," she said.
Coffman-Gomez agreed that the city needed more time, which is why she casted the dissenting vote.
The Council also agreed to sell a piece of property on 190 Main St. to allow a developer to build a fast food restaurant.
According to Kurt Overmeyer, the city's economic development manager, Coastal Realty Investors purchased the property that currently houses the former Oda's barbershop, Caesar's Card Room and TV Repair Shop near the corner of Main Street and Riverside Drive, and have a tenant for the first phase of the project.
The vacant buildings next to El Pollero will be demolished, possibly in six months.
The developer plans to construct a fast food restaurant on the property, but which one is being kept under wraps for now, Overmeyer said, because a contract has not been finalized.
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