News & Updates

News & Updates

Study analyzes possible impact of the Project Labor Agreement in Fresno

UC Merced Community and Labor Center policy brief reviews 8 years of construction projects, concludes citywide PLA could be beneficial

A municipal Project Labor Agreement (PLA) in the City of Fresno could support and sustain good-paying jobs with no significant cost increases or delays in construction projects, according to a new study.

The study or “policy brief” – entitled “Filling the Good Jobs Gap: Fresno’s Opportunity for a Citywide Project Labor Agreement” – is an analysis by Keith Brower Brown, a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley, and is published by the Community and Labor Center at the University of California, Merced.

Brown’s research finds that, from January 2013 to October 2020, an estimated 1,720 full-time construction jobs in Fresno would have been covered by a municipal PLA. That PLA could have supported, or solidified, existing careers for an average of 215 construction workers annually.

“I think the important takeaway here is that with a single change in city policy, you could see over 200 construction jobs a year turn into well-paid and highly trained positions,” said Brown, whose research area is the politics of climate crisis, care and construction labor in the San Joaquin Valley.

“Based on past studies, these jobs benefits won’t come at an increased cost to the city or with delays,” he said. “If anything, this will keep construction on track and put Fresno in a position to have a more skilled work force, more stable careers and a more stable economic basis going into the future.”

PLAs are a construction contract between management and unions, or labor, that govern terms such as wage levels, local hiring, training standards and working conditions on public construction projects. The agreements also protect against worker strikes and assure a steady and competent workforce.

“Project Labor Agreements give our qualified local residents the opportunity to compete for public works construction positions that would otherwise go to workers imported from other areas of our state and the US,” said Blake Konczal, executive director of the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board.

“We’ve all heard of ‘flyover country’ nationally,” he said. “In California we have ‘drive thru’ country here in the Valley and Fresno. When large public works projects are staffed by outsiders, when our qualified local residents don’t even have a chance to compete for those jobs, it demonstrates a quintessential ‘drive through’ country mindset.”

PLAs also can offer potential landing spots for graduates of a model pre-apprenticeship training program that primes students for apprenticeships in the trades.

Through a state grant, the training program has expanded into the ValleyBuild Partnership. ValleyBuild recruits and trains students in 14 counties in a collaboration between the trades, regional workforce boards and other partners.

“The pre-apprenticeship training program is transformational because of the way it changes lives for the better,” said Chuck Riojas, financial secretary/treasurer of the Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare Counties Building and Construction Trades Council. “The trades are a ticket to good, living-wage careers and a pathway into the middle class. PLAs can help guarantee spots for apprentices who are working toward that dream.”

Brown’s study comes as the City of Fresno considers the concept of a municipal PLA. Adoption of a municipal PLA would be a striking reversal for the city, which was one of the first jurisdictions in the country to ban such agreements in 2000, according to the policy brief.

The city’s stance has softened over the years – the ban was reversed in 2014 – as PLAs became more common in private-sector projects such as solar construction and also in the first segment of the state’s ambitious High Speed Rail project.

“It’s really groundbreaking for Fresno to lead the way — going from being a city that had an early prohibition on this policy to having a strong majority of city government really see that this kind of policy is a win-win,” Brown said.

“Filling the Good Jobs Gap” looked at 145 qualifying construction contracts issued by the city, and six from the Fresno Housing Authority, with start dates between Jan. 1, 2013 and Oct. 31, 2020. It relied on data from the U.S. Economic Census and California Department of Industrial Relations in the analysis.

According to the study, the 1,720 non-PLA construction jobs during that period “represent missed opportunities for stronger wages, career training and working conditions in one of California’s lowest-income major cities.”

Union jobs typically pay an additional $7,000 per worker annually, according to the study. In addition, PLAs can require that apprentices fill a percentage of the jobs, which helps ensure a pipeline of trained workers into the skilled labor force.

With the wage increase factored in to the estimated 1,720 jobs, “a municipal PLA would have benefited Fresno with over $1.5 million per year, on average, in total increased income for construction laborers,” said the study.