South SLO County Sanitation district labor agreement in trouble

August 6, 2019

A controversial project labor agreement for the construction of a redundancy project at the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District appears to be dead in the water after union representatives stopped responding to district staff. A disagreement that might have been spurred by the board’s decision to remove construction management from the agreement.

As of Friday, the district had not received a response from Tri-Counties Building and Trades Council Executive Secretary Tony Skinner. As a result, sanitation district staff is asking the board to consider canceling the agreement at its Aug. 7 meeting, according to the agenda packet.

The sanitation district, which serves the residents of the Oceano Community Service District, Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach, is governed by a three person board consisting of one representative from each community. Currently the board consists of Grover Beach Mayor Jeff Lee, Oceano district representative Linda Austin, and Arroyo Grande Mayor Caren Ray-Russom.

On July 18, the sanitation district board voted 2-1 to require the use of local union approved workers to construct an estimated $28 million redundancy project. Lee and Ray-Russom voted in favor of the project labor agreement after receiving significant contributions from labor unions and building trade advocates.

The sanitation district’s costs for negotiating and constructing the agreement is approximately $38,800, according to a staff report. The project engineers estimate the decision to pursue the agreement may have also cost the project $55,000 per month over the last three to four months.

With an approximate $250,000 spent pursuing a project labor agreement, the project could now top $29 million. The sanitation district plans to put the project out to bid in October.


At last nights meeting the Board voted 2-1 to extend the deadline 7 days for the Tri-Counties Building and Trades Council to respond to the agreement put forth by the district. Linda Austin argued pretty hard, saying the deadline has passed and this exercise has already cost the district too much. There may be a special meeting on August 21st that may include a closed session and to update the board and public. There is a threat of litigation looming along with the very real possibility that should the district go with the PLA they will not get the USDA $4.5M low interest loan Oceano’s low income status qualifies them for.

Caren Ray articulated very clearly that her intent to have local unions working on the project would be good for the economy admitted that it would not directly likely benefit Oceano.


This is what MB city council is going to try to shove down our throats at next weeks meeting.

PLA disguised as supporting LOCAL labor when in fact it does the opposite. Union donations were made to current council members campaigns. Hope the communities of SLO Co. see thru this misrepresentation before more of our taxpayer money is wasted.


Ratepayers – show up at the meeting!!! If you do not put pressure on Jeff Lee and Caren Ray they will rip you off. It is much cheaper to go to the meeting than pay higher and higher rates for the remainder of your time in this community. Can anyone provide the information as to where it will be and what time?


Oceano CSD office at 6PM

Jorge Estrada

This is a discussion that we who live in rural communities don’t have cuz we take care of our own crap.


There coming for you next Jorge. I had discussions wit water board personnel who have mentioned Santa Margarita is their next target. Its just a matter of time before everyone on septic is screwed over.


These Project Labor Agreements are such a ripoff. Publicly funded projects should be open to bid to ANY QUALIFIED contractor, whether he/she belongs to a union or not. In this county the overwhelming majority of contractors, around 90 percent, are non-union. A PLA prohibits them from working on the project unless they join the union for the duration of the project. If they do, their workers have to contribute to the union pension plan, health insurance, etc. for every hour they work, and because they are not vested, they will never get any of that money back. It’s a great way for unions to make a profit off non-union workers – all at taxpayers’ expense of course.

The occasional prevailing wage job for many local contractors helps them keep their crews living and working here in this very high-cost community. Doesn’t anyone care about them?

Cuesta College turned down a PLA in 2015 and the construction there is going well.

These PLAs have only come into play here in the past few years because the unions need the extra money. Originally they were used in the 1950s and 1960ss to guarantee there would not be a strike. Can anyone even remember a strike on a public works project around here? Neither can I.

The PLA is an outdated labor tool that has become reinvented as a tool to “hire local,” “hire quality,” and other great-sounding ideas, but the reality is, they exclude qualified local nonunion firms, limit competition, drive up prices, and in the long run do not produce a better project.

Support the local construction industry! No PLA!

For the record I am not a contractor, nor am I married to one, ie no horse in this race, but just a lowly taxpayer trying to see our money spent wisely — if that is at all possible.


I totally agree with the statement above. PLA’s are a rip-off to the community. I hope the board does the right thing and rejects the agreement.


Should be an interesting showdown tomorrow nite. Ray Russom could flip.


Her city is broke. Not many are going to support her voting to spend more than is necessary for this project.


She can’t, the labor organizations that bought, I mean donated to her will not be happy if she no longer votes in their favor


Wow… Just wow!