Thursday, December 14, 2006
Scared of a lawsuit, board members of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority last week delayed a vote to ensure construction workers receive a prevailing wage on the former military base.
FORA’s board was expected to clarify its prevailing wage policy on Friday, Dec. 8. But instead, it caved to the threat of litigation from the developer’s attorney. This likely means that nothing will happen for two months.
The warning came from an attorney for Marina Community Partners (MCP), which is developing University Village, a 1,200 home and mixed-use project. MCP doesn’t want FORA to take sides on a pending lawsuit. A coalition of local unions filed the lawsuit against MCP and the Marina Redevelopment Agency for sidestepping the project’s prevailing wage requirements.
In a Nov. 29 letter to the FORA executive committee, MCP urged the committee to defer action. Marina Mayor Ila Mettee-McCutchon and Del Rey Oaks Mayor Joseph Russell followed suit. As members of the committee, Russell and Mettee-McCutchon outvoted Seaside Mayor Ralph Rubio to recommend postponing the prevailing wage issue.
Instead of standing up for fair wages, the board’s action was to take no action. This was not a popular stance at the Dec. 8 meeting, with a room full of union members wearing red “Prevailing Wage Yes!!” stickers. But it made MCP happy. Mettee-McCutchon and Russell did exactly what the developer’s attorney asked them to do.
Russell and Marina Councilman Michael Morrison even went a step further, saying they don’t want to strengthen FORA’s prevailing wage policy.
“[The unions] want us to modify it and put it in their lawsuit and say that was the original intent,” Russell said. “For us to insert ourselves into this we are just asking for a lawsuit.”
The unions, which include the Monterey-Santa Cruz County Building and Construction Trades Council and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 234, want FORA to put stronger language in its Master Resolution. They want it to specify that prevailing wage applies to “all construction work...including all work performed by all property-owners, developers and their transferees.” The agency would be able to review construction contracts submitted by jurisdictions like Marina or Monterey County to assure compliance with the wage policy.
FORA’s legal counsel Jerry Bowden has said that the resolution, as written, does not apply to “first sale developers” who are not contractually tied to FORA. This bolsters MCP’s claim that when it sells land to companies like Target, Kohl’s or to the hotel developers, these companies aren’t required to pay prevailing wage.
Once Target put out a bid without a prevailing wage in October, the unions filed their lawsuit. Target has since changed course, but the union still claims that MCP violated FORA’s Master Resolution, state labor law and their pact with the city of Marina.
Rubio, a carpenter’s union representative, said the intent of founding board members was clear in 1995 when they passed the prevailing wage policy. A prevailing wage stipulation was put in the Master Resolution so that local contractors could benefit from the development wealth on Fort Ord.
“For us to be held hostage by a potential lawsuit by a developer who has gone around the original intent...I feel that’s a little ironical,” Rubio said during the Dec. 8 meeting.
During public comment, most people said they wanted FORA to stand up for fair wages. But with the 6pm automatic adjournment fast approaching, Chairwoman Mettee-McCutchon started enforcing the public comment three-minute rule. The former Army colonel interrupted the unions’ attorney, John Davis, saying, “I really feel that you are arguing the constitutional case and not the item on the agenda.”
Davis was then asked to summarize and finish his comment.
Later, Marina City Attorney Robert Wellington lauded the economic benefits of University Village. When he started speaking in legal terms, Trades Council President Ron Chesshire shouted to cut him off. “If our attorney can’t argue the case…then your attorney can’t argue the case.”
With five minutes to go and still more people wanting to speak, a motion was made to extend the meeting by 10 minutes. Carmel Mayor Sue McCloud voted against the motion, causing it to fail.
That means the recommendation to take no action on the prevailing wage issue will come back in January. If there are dissenting votes then—which is likely—the item will have to come back for a second vote in February. In the meantime, projects like Cypress Knolls, a 712-home senior development in Marina will likely pass through FORA without having to adhere to proposed changes in FORA’s prevailing wage policy.