Community workforce agreement approved in $30 million wastewater project



Local workers will be priority hires in an up-and-coming construction project on the wastewater treatment plant in Oceano, the key term of an agreement that was recently approved by agencies leading the project.

The South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District owns and operates the wastewater treatment plant, and its board of directors voted on Aug. 21 in favor of a community workforce agreement aimed at guaranteeing that the majority of workers and apprentices assigned to the project will be locals.

Caren Ray Russom, who serves as a board member for the Sanitation District and is the mayor of Arroyo Grande, said that there aren't a lot of local contractors who do projects like the one needed at Oceano's wastewater treatment plant. So when these kinds of projects go out to bid, big contractors hired from out of town come in and bring all their employees with them, giving the available work opportunities to non-residents who won't pay local property taxes or spend money on the Central Coast.

Through the Sanitation District's community workforce agreement, qualified contractors of all kinds will still be able to bid on the project—those from in or out of town—and they'll still be able to bring their core employees to work on the project. But outside the core group, a certain number of local employees will need to be hired for every out-of-towner.

That agreement ensures that tax dollars and ratepayer dollars remain in the area, Russom said, helping to maintain a strong local economy and solid career pathways for local residents, which she said will be especially important in the wake of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant closure.

"That's a big deal to me," Russom said.

There was some opposition to the community work agreement throughout the Sanitation District's negotiations with the Tri-Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, an organization that represents dozens of unions on the Central Coast. Some residents say forcing contractors to hire locally will make the project more costly and less competitive, but Russom said there isn't any real damning evidence to support that argument.

Negotiations also hit a wall during a discussion over the construction management portion of the project, which is under a separate contract. Organizations bidding on that portion of the project won't be required to comply with the community workforce agreement.

Still, local unions are celebrating the community workforce agreement as a win, according to Tony Skinner, executive secretary-treasurer of the Tri-Counties Building and Construction Trades Council.

"The community workforce agreement that was adopted by the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District for their Redundancy Project is a major step forward for the working men and women in San Luis Obispo County," Skinner said in a press release. "The agreement will put local workers on the job first and keep local tax dollars and ratepayers here fueling the local economy."

The changes coming to the wastewater treatment plant are known as the Redundancy Project. As it is now, portions of the plant can't be maintained or serviced without shutting down operations at the plant entirely. The Redundancy Project, valued at more than $30 million, will allow major process units at the plant to be removed from service for maintenance or repairs without risking emergency shutdowns.

The project is scheduled to go out to bid over the next few months with construction to begin in late 2019 or early 2020. Δ

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