Sacramento hiring deal will increase construction costs

The Golden 1 Center is shown from the Kimpton Hotel, under construction, in August 2016.
The Golden 1 Center is shown from the Kimpton Hotel, under construction, in August 2016. Sacramento Bee file

On Tuesday, the Sacramento City Council plans to vote whether to radically change the way the city builds projects.

There have been no hearings, no work sessions and no debate by the council. Last Thursday, the change – which will increase construction costs while discriminating against workers – appeared on the council agenda.


This is what Americans find most repulsive about politics today: Wealthy and powerful special interests help elect people and then demand payback. Who’s the special interest in this case? Construction unions. What’s the payback? A project labor agreement. These deals are so controversial they were banned in 24 states and 11 places in California.

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Eric Christen
Eric Christen

The proposed citywide agreement is 26 pages of rhetoric and vague promises to “hire locally” with no requirement to do so, just “best faith efforts.” Non-union workers must pay into union pension plans from which they’ll never benefit. This is wage theft – about $20 an hour. Non-union contractors – the vast majority in the region and almost all the small and minority owned contractors – can only employ four of their own workers, while young non-union apprentices are explicitly banned from projects.

In this tight construction labor market in which companies can’t find enough workers to fill job openings, this proposal would reduce the city’s pool of potential bidders even further. For taxpayers, this means higher costs.

This is why there has been no discussion. You can’t defend this type of waste and exclusion. Best to just shove it through as quickly as possible and hope no one is paying attention and that everyone will quickly forget it happened. We are paying attention and we won’t forget this betrayal of our rights.

Eric Christen is executive director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction. He can be contacted at