Commentary: Labor Agreement a Key Link for Innovation Park Project Success

On Tuesday night about one or two dozen members of the Carpenters Local Union came out to push for a labor agreement for the Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC).  Patricia Ramirez, a field rep with the Carpenters Local 46, spoke on behalf of the group and at this point they are opposing this project.

As she explained, “You have a developer that has failed to commit when it comes to some of the core values of Davis.  A commitment to hiring locally or having proper training with the use of a joint labor apprenticeship.

“Until the developer can make a commitment to these core values of Davis, we strongly oppose this development and we hope that you do as well,” she said.

While the Davis City Council moved forward with the project by certifying the EIR, at least three members of the council – in fact, the key three members of the council who are not facing reelection next spring – made it clear that they will not support a project without some sort of labor agreement.

Robb Davis, who will not seek re-election, summarized what he heard from his colleagues when he noted that the three members of this council who are going to be on the council for the next three years “have said to the developers, we’re not real happy with what we see with labor.”

But the importance of this goes beyond the wishes of the city council.  In order for this project to be approved, the voters of Davis must pass the development through a Measure R vote.  As everyone reading this knows, that is a tall order.

As Rochelle Swanson put it, this will be “a very high bar” and it will be “vetted and approved by this community.”

Look no further than the Nishi election to see the importance of this issue.  Nishi went down to defeat rather narrowly by only 600 votes.  A key turning point might have been on the issue of affordable housing.

It was not just no-growthers who opposed Nishi.  Take Martha Teeter, a retired UC Davis professor and an advocate for helping the homeless find an innovative solution to housing issues.  She is not what you would call a no-growth advocate – far from it.  In fact, she works with an interfaith group on housing solutions for the homeless.

However, last May, there was an op-ed from Ms. Teeter that argued, “Nishi is cheating the city and the community out of affordable housing by contributing only a token amount toward affordable housing.”

She pointed out, “The City Council exempted Nishi from in-lieu fees of $11.5 million for affordable housing.”

One of the key variables in the Nishi election was the presence of a large number of highly progressive voters who came out to support Bernie Sanders in the June election.  Initially we believed that that might bode well for the project, as a lot of students who were in desperate need of housing would come out to vote.

But it did not prove to be a net plus for the project, as many of the progressive voters, even students, turned against the project due to what they saw as a failure to deliver on affordable housing.  In fact, many of those same people came to the council meeting last spring to advocate for Sterling, which had a separate and sizable affordable housing component.

What we have seen in the months since November is the emergence of a new progressive wing in Davis.  There are a number of groups that have come forward to “resist” the new Trump administration, but they have also adhered to the notion that all politics is local.  We have seen Indivisible Yolo, for example, make their presence felt this past spring on the issue of the ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) program.

The county’s proposal for an MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle) was in part defeated as large numbers of Davis progressives filled the Board of Supervisor’s chambers in opposition to the MRAP.  We have seen starting in the spring a number of progressive groups ranging from People Power to other more ad hoc groups coming out in support of police oversight and in opposition to the handling of the Picnic Day situation.

We have seen in mid-August 500 people come to Central Park for a “unity” rally.  We have seen hundreds come to Congressman’s Garamendi’s “townhall meetings.”  We have seen hundreds come to the Gatherings Initiative.  We have seen hundreds come out in opposition to immigration policies and health care concerns.

These groups are large, they are active, and they are making a difference – at least at the local level.  And many of them are mobilized around concepts like affordable housing and renters’ concerns.

The new progressive movement in Davis is very much focused around social justice issues, which is why the lack of a labor agreement should be viewed with concern.  Unlike the old guard progressives that have turned against growth in the city of Davis, the new wave seems more concerned with issues like social equity and affordability.

They may well come out in favor of an innovation park proposal that can help bring in skilled jobs for college graduates and university researchers, but they won’t do it if it means crossing union opposition.

There is a new movement afoot in Davis and a new group of very progressive activists ready to make a difference.  If the MRIC can tap into that energy, it might be able to break through the barriers which have befallen previous land use decisions, but that will not happen if there isn’t a labor agreement.

I firmly believe that, but for the failure of Nishi to have a more reasonable affordable housing component, many of the progressive Bernie supporters would have lined up in support of that project.  But without affordable housing it was easy for them to come out and vote in opposition.  It would have taken 300 or so people to flip their position to have changed the outcome of that election.

MRIC is going to have opposition – we have seen it from those who oppose growth on the periphery and those who believe that the EIR certification was poor public process.  However, that is opposition that can be overcome if the new energy from the progressives can be tapped into.

Step one is to reach a labor agreement – any labor agreement – and do it as soon as possible before opposition begins to solidify.

The labor folks who came out on Tuesday are not going to go away, but with a good agreement they can become strong advocates to help link with the broader progressive movement re-emerging in Davis and Yolo County.

—-David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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    1. David Greenwald

      The city isn’t hiring construction workers for the MRIC site.  This is about a Project labor Agreement between the developers and the construction workers.

  1. Keith O

    So if the developer gets the okay to build they will have to hire union workers and that can be mandated by our council?

    Or the threat of some local activists acting up if they don’t hire union workers?

    Is that what I’m reading here?

    David, I know you would probably like to think it’s that way but small groups of local activists acting up don’t run this town.


    1. David Greenwald

      It’s an agreement between the developer and the construction workers. Can the council make that a condition of approval? I don’t see why they couldn’t.

      However what I’m pointing out here is that one reason that Nishi lost by 600 votes is that a bunch of people who otherwise would have supported the project voted no due to the lack of an affordable housing component and in a close election that made the difference between passage and failure.

      “David, I know you would probably like to think it’s that way but small groups of local activists acting up don’t run this town.”

      You mean a sizable number of people who vote can’t swing an otherwise close election? Come on, you know they can and like I point out with Nishi, probably did.

      1. David Greenwald

        It’s also not just activists.  The community is overwhelmingly liberal/ progressive.  So you’re telling me if people make a stink over the lack of a project labor agreement like they did over affordable housing, it won’t have an impact on how the average Davis voter votes?  Come on.  Again.

        1. Keith O

          I really don’t think people are going to make a stink if the developer doesn’t hire “union” workers.  As long as the workers are qualified I would think is all people care about.  The work has to be signed off by inspectors anyway with all kinds of safety guidelines.

          I feel you’re trying to make a case out of something that really isn’t an issue.

        2. David Greenwald

          Some people will not vote for the project if they don’t have a project labor agreement.  Will it be enough to sway the election?  For potential swing voters, this could be an issue the resonates.

      2. Keith O

        It’s an agreement between the developer and the construction workers. Can the council make that a condition of approval? I don’t see why they couldn’t.

        Can they mandate it has to be “union” workers?


      3. Howard P

        Can the council make that a condition of approval?

        What ordinance exists that makes it a requirement?  What nexus is there to condition it as an exaction?  Failure to demonstrate one or both of those, in a manner that will stand up in Court, means NO!

        Maybe in Chicago, but hopefully not here…

        If there is a DA, that could be “negotiated”, but it cannot be ‘required’.

        Basic development law… most practitioners learn it the first few years of working with development laws…



  2. Jim Hoch

    “Local Hiring” and “Prevailing Wages” are not necessarily the same thing. If they say “local Hiring” it may be a more effective message than “Prevailing Wages” as I would guess few union carpenters live in Davis.

  3. Howard P

    Perhaps uber-liberals who never had to deal with union dues/union hierarchy/union ‘rules’…

    Strongly suspect most of those present wearing the t-shirts were not carpenters… body morph was wrong… suspect most, if not all, are paid union ‘office’ folk drawing 100% of their salary/benefits from dues paid by union carpenters’ dues… game on.

    The union reps gave no guarantees as to local employment… perhaps you missed that… only that they had to be “union”… many contractors pay prevailing wage, but have no union… think about that…

    1. Howard P

      Those present, wearing their t-shirts, (paid for out of union dues from carpenters) probably rely on actual workers dues for their own income… of course they want to only hire union folk, whether or not the developer pays ‘prevailing wage’… if the developer is paying prevailing wage, why the need for “union” labor?

  4. Alan Miller

    I’ll bet on liberal Davis winning out


    As you said, it only takes a small number of votes to swing one way or the other.  Not all liberals are unionists.

    1. Howard P

      Amen,.. unionism is basically ‘conservative’ these days… was not always so…  most ‘unionists’ voted Republican big time over the last 1-8 years… strongest members of the ‘tea party’…

      Progressives reject at least some union ‘demands’…

    2. David Greenwald

      Alan: For the most part a PLA is not going to cause anyone to vote against the project but not having a PLA will cause enough of a percentage of people to oppose it.

      1. Howard P

        Conjecture… nothing more… is Sean, DTA, and/or DFD,  ‘channeling’ you?

        A PLA with a group who has given no evidence that the jobs will be “local”?  And what does “local” mean?  How many members of the Carpenter’s Union have, who live in Davis?  Even Yolo County?

        Those at the meeting were trying to drum up support for their very existence as a union hierarchy!  To justify their relevance… NOT for local, Davis carpenters… get real…


        1. David Greenwald

          Everything is conjecture…  My opinion is that for a number of potential swing voters this is an issue that could keep them from supporting the project just as the affordable housing deal in Nishi kept a number of similarly situated folks from doing it.

          In the end, I can only show you think between Nishi and the affordable housing piece, but I think I have a solid case for it and talking to folks both on the council and in the community yesterday, I think they agree.

    1. Tia Will


      Here we go trying to put demands on the developer before they even have a project”

      And the corollary. Here we go certifying EIR at developers request before they even have a project.”

    1. Howard P

      They are rare… very rare… even in California…

      Why are you apparently “championing” PLA’s [what exactly do they accomplish?]? Should the City do one, where “local preference” (whatever that means) should drive city hiring? City contracting?

      1. Howard P

        If the City entered into PLA’s for the contracting out of greenbelt/landscape maintenance, other ‘proposed’ contracted out services, do you as fervently support that? If not, why not?

        1. David Greenwald

          I’m going to back off on the comment somewhat as someone explained the difference between a formal PLA and a less formal labor agreement.  So I misspoke on that. I do know that Target had a formal PLA, but the others I had in mind were less formal.

          1. Don Shor

            Was the Target PLA for construction, or for salesfolk/janitors/etc. As I recall, the focus was on employees, not construction labor…

            Actually, I think it was for construction labor. Target has been the target (ha) of minimum wage protests subsequently.

        2. Howard P

          Which gets us back to the seminal questions, which you appear to choose not to answer:

          Why are you apparently “championing” PLA’s [what exactly do they accomplish?]? Should the City do one, where “local preference” (whatever that means) should drive city hiring? City contracting?

          You seem to be saying all folk should only hire union labor, including the City, where only one union (FF’s) exist today…

          Carpenters, even non-union, are compensated higher than ‘laborers’ … big time…

        3. David Greenwald

          The original point of the article was to point out the need to get a labor agreement as pushed for by three members of council and the belief that not getting an agreement would harm the prospects for the passage of a measure r vote with some key swing voters.  That’s where I come back to with apologies for taking my comments further than I should have.

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