The Cosumnes Community Services District (CSD) board on Oct. 21 voted 3-2 to approve an agreement with a union organization that would have its members work on two construction projects.

CSD directors reviewed a draft of the Community Workforce Training Agreement with the Sacramento-Sierra Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents more than 15,000 union construction workers in Northern California.

“We look forward to great projects and meeting the needs of the CSD,” the council’s Executive Director Kevin Ferreira told the CSD board during the meeting’s public comment period.

Under this new deal, union apprentices would help build Fire Station 77 at Poppy Ridge Road, and install solar energy panels at the parking lot of the CSD headquarters on Elk Grove Boulevard.

The CSD’s construction projects are typically put out to bid to private contractors. This new Sacramento-Sierra agreement would require the winning bidder to follow several terms such as including the union’s apprentices on the project, and having at least half of the workforce composed of local residents.

The draft agreement split the CSD board on Oct. 21 – Board President Orlando Fuentes along with Rod Brewer and Jaclyn Moreno favored it while Gil Albiani and Jim Luttrell voted against it.

Supporters said that the deal would benefit the local workers during the current recession.

“We are in a COVID recession, (we have) high unemployment, tens of millions of people are out of work, and I don’t want to see Elk Grove slip away from being the good place that it is to live in,” Fuentes said. “This has the potential to keep Elk Grove residents and our neighbors earning the decent wages that they deserve.”

The board president also stated that he does not have campaign contributions from labor unions and was not endorsed by the Sacramento Area Firefighters Local 522, which represents Cosumnes firefighters. He added that he still does his best to make sure that Cosumnes firefighters are equipped and funded.

A Herburger review of Fuentes’s 2016 campaign disclosures confirmed that he did not receive union contributions.

Fuentes, Luttrell and Albiani are running for re-election without opposition to the CSD board in this year’s election.

Brewer announced that he would “hesitantly” approve the agreement. He directed a message to the CSD’s new labor partner.

“One heed of caution, deal with the CSD and make it fair,” Brewer said. “If we don’t feel this is in our interest, we’re moving our way.”

Opponents of the agreement argued that the CSD could be trapped with the agreement if the two projects go over budget.

Luttrell said that the deal is wrong and he then recalled when he worked as Sacramento firefighter at Station 14 during the early 1970s.

“It was a dilapidated building then, it’s worse now,” he said.

The director said that the city of Sacramento put the station’s replacement project out to bid with a union Project Labor Agreement last year, and the bids went over the project’s estimated cost by 33%.

“That’s going to happen here, folks,” he said.

Luttrell, who is a former Local 522 board member, noted that he is a longtime member of the Central Labor Council.

“I’m probably the only dues-paying union member right up here now,” he said.

Sacramento-Sierra earlier rejected Luttrell’s request to have a project go out to rebid if less than three qualified contractors respond or if all of the bids exceed the estimated project cost by more than 10%.

In a comment submitted to the CSD board, Sacramento-Sierra’s attorney Tom Enslow said that Luttrell’s rebid proposal was “unworkable,” and that it would undercut his council’s agreement with the CSD.

The CSD’s legal counsel, Sigrid Asmundson, told the board that they still have the option of putting a project out to rebid, but the approved bidder must still follow the conditions of the Sacramento-Sierra agreement.

Albiani told the board that their district previously had projects go out for rebidding after proposed bids from contractors were too high. He compared the new agreement to a baseball game.

“The CSD is providing the balls and bats, and they’re playing on our field,” Albiani said. “And yet, they’re going to permit the other team to make the rules – I think that is so onerous.”

During their meeting, the CSD board heard divided opinions from the public as well as members of organizations such as the Coalition for Fair Employment and Construction.

“You have no protection against the almost guaranteed high cost associated with this (agreement),” that coalition’s executive director, Eric Christen said.

Supporters said that the agreement would offer great training opportunities for local workers.

“We have been in the negative effect of the aftermath of COVD-19,” Elk Grove resident Tim Cavanaugh said. “This vote will be a positive growth for the Elk Grove community.”

Paul Mewton, the CSD’s chief of planning, design and construction, told Herburger staff that the solar panel and Fire Station 77 projects are scheduled to go out to bid next year. There are plans to finish the solar panel project by next fall and the fire station in early 2022. No estimated construction costs have been reported for those projects yet.