State of the Union of Oakland Developers and Unions

by Jeff Mitchell

As two of the city’s largest and newest developments, one at 19th Street and Broadway and another at 3300 Broadway, respectively, work their way through the city regulatory process, a local labor official says he has mixed feelings that local union labor will be used on both sites without a huge struggle.

The first site, at 19th and Broadway, is led by Seth Hamalian and his Mission Bay Development Group. Plans there call for the construction of a 36-story residential tower on the one-acre site, which is currently anchored by the 1920s-era four-story Tapscott Building. Hamalian intends to rehabilitate the historic building, while the tower will offer 300 residential units and 12,000-square-feet of ground-floor retail.

Just up the street will be another large development led by Phil Tagami and his well-known California Capital & Investment Group. At 3300 Broadway, in the city’s Broadway-Valdez District, Tagami intends to build a luxury mixed-use building, which will include 45 new residential units, ground-floor retail and state-of-the-art amenities. The project, according to the developer’s website, is currently seeking entitlements, and is expected to begin construction in early this year.

A third and more controversial project being pitched by the Martin Group, called W12, will see eventually two 7-story mid-rise, mixed-used buildings on parcels in Oakland’s Chinatown at 12th and Webster streets. According to city representatives Martin sold one of two parcels at the site since the the start of the project in 2016 and is proceeding with demolition of 301 12th Street. The new owner of 285 12th Street, whose identity was not immediately available, will continue with the original building plan but on a different timeline. The two structures combined will contain some 300 residential and office units.

The 1.7 acre project has run into community opposition and delays related to the disposition of community benefits agreement with local residents. Those issues have been subsequently resolved, city officials said.

Neither Martin Group CEO David Martin, Tagami nor Hamalian could be reached for comment on their projects.

According to Andreas Cluver, secretary-treasurer of the Building and Trades Council of Alameda County, local labor union leaders have a mixed outlook on the projects.

“We have worked with Phil [Tagami] in the past and he has been outstanding. Seth [Hamalian] has never committed to using union labor and, because of that, we anticipate having potential issues with him,” Cluver said in a brief telephone interview. Cluver said he had no information on the W12 project status.

Elsewhere in California, however, whether union labor is welcomed onto a development site, typically in the form of a project labor agreement or PLA, often depends on the political sophistication of the developer and of the local political environment.

The same goes for community benefit agreements or CBAs, wrote Ellen Reese, a UC Riverside professor of sociology and labor studies, in a January policy brief she co-authored for the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

Reese described PLAs as a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement that establishes the terms and conditions for public sector employees, contractors and subcontractors, and the individual participants in the labor force prior to the project’s start.

“The requirement that contractors hire union labor has been used to maintain wages in environments otherwise dominated by the drive to maximize profits and sales tax,” Reese wrote. “Local hire programs can provide structural solutions to persistent workplace exclusion and discrimination due to race, class or gender.”

Reese’s policy brief highlighted three examples where local governments’ or jurisdictions’ support of PLAs and CBAs paid off in terms of stimulating use of local labor unions, building more affordable housing, and improving the economy and general quality of life.

One example was the Maritime and Aviation PLA (or MAPLA) the Port of Oakland first signed in 2000. Another example was Measure JJJ, which was a successful local ballot initiative passed by the voters in the city of Los Angeles in 2016, and the third was the Staples Center CBA in Los Angeles, which was signed into place in 2001.

Reese wrote that the MAPLA agreement ensures that the project uses union labor, pays construction workers decent wages and improves local residents’ access to construction jobs. In return, construction workers and their unions agree to complete the project and to avoid work stoppages.

The MAPLA has also been periodically revised when new development projects in the Port of Oakland are being proposed and considered, one such project being the redevelopment of the former Oakland Army Base. Reese noted that currently the city of Oakland does not have any local ordinances requiring the use of PLAs or CBAs on developments within the city.

Cynthia Strathmann, executive director of Los Angeles-based Strategic Actions for a Just Economy or SAJE, said that in the end most developers still view the world from a “what’s in it for them” perspective.

“Developers are there to make money,” she said. “While some will seek out these agreements voluntarily, many need the force of local law to do the right thing. We strongly encourage local governments to adopt PLA and CBA ordinances.”

Jeff Mitchell is a Monterey County-based freelance journalist.


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  • published this page in Archive News 2018-03-23 09:43:16 -0700