Labor unions and the firm signed to lead construction of a new Kings arena in Sacramento have come to an agreement over the use of unionized labor in the construction of the project, a move that assures peace with the unions but will likely trigger a new source of opposition to the proposed public subsidy for the arena.
Officials with the Kings, the city, building trades unions and Turner Construction - which has been signed on to lead construction of the arena - announced the labor agreement at a noon press conference today at Downtown Plaza.
Under a Community Workforce and Training Agreement (CWTA), a vast majority of the workers hired for the project will be unionized. Turner Construction will oversee the hiring of subcontractors and the estimated 3,000 to 3,500 workers needed for the project will be dispatched by the Sacramento-Sierra Building & Construction Trades Council, which represents building trades unions.
Workers on the project will receive union scale wages and benefits, and both union and non-union contractors will be permitted to bid for jobs.
The agreement also stipulates that 60 percent of workers and 70 percent of apprentices hired for the project will be from the Sacramento area. There is a no-strike provision in the agreement and the sides have agreed to partner with the Helmets to Hardhats program, which will connect National Guard, Reserve, and retired and transitioning active duty military personnel to jobs on the arena project.
The deal immediately spawned controversy from a group called the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, which opposes project labor agreements. Eric Christen, the head of the San Diego-based organization, said he believes his group will donate money to STOP, the volunteer group trying to force a ballot initiative challenging the $258 million taxpayer subsidy for the arena.
While nothing's been decided for certain, Christen said he believes his members will help STOP financially. "Our guys are furious about this," he said.
"Opponents of taxpayer funding for this arena just found an aggressive new ally today," he added.
STOP is gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would force a public vote on the proposed $258 million public subsidy for the arena. The group's efforts were dealt a major setback when it was revealed last month that its major donor was Chris Hansen, the investor who unsuccessfully tried to lure the Kings to Seattle earlier this year.
But donations from Sacramento non-union contractors could give the group more credibility with Sacramentans. "Getting that money from Seattle kind of tainted it, but local contractors is another story," said Kevin Dayton, a Sacramento political consultant who has worked on labor issues with Christen's group.
In a possible sign of things to come, a small group of protestors, Dayton among them, held up signs ripping the union agreement during the Downtown Plaza press conference. Dayton, grabbed the microphone after Mayor Kevin Johnson finished speaking and began ranting against the deal.
"Yes, you will see a fight against this," Dayton said, before he waspulled away from the mike by Johnson's press secretary Ben Sosenko, as a group of union construction workers began booing Dayton.
Earlier, the mayor said he believes the majority of construction jobs on the arena site will be unionized. He said he wasn't overly worried about non-union contractors helping STOP with its petition drive.
"You're always going to have people on the fringes who don't agree," he said.
Christen's group tried but failed to qualify a ballot initiative last year that would have blocked a potential labor agreement for the proposed Kings arena at the downtown railyard. City records show Christen's group spent $307,272 on the effort, which would have prohibited project labor agreements on publicly funded projects. The group collected thousands of signatures in the effort, but too many were determined to be invalid by county elections officials and the petition was tossed.
At the time, Christen said his effort faced ""a concerted union effort to harass and intimidate signature gatherers and citizens."
As for the new labor agreement, Christen called it "a waste of taxpayer money and a payoff to unions." He said the deal was done to curry union support for a bill proposed by Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg to assist arena construction by streamlining the California environmental laws.
"Steinberg needs union lobbyists and Democrats to push through his special CEQA exemption bill," Christen said in a press statement. "Requiring construction companies to sign a project labor agreement with unions locks up majority support in the Legislature for this special interest bill."