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IID’s project-labor agreement annulled

The Imperial Irrigation District no longer has an all-encompassing project-labor agreement with local unions concerning future construction projects, as the controversial pact that was passed by the district board in late 2020 was annulled by the newly seated board.

“At a special meeting of the current Board of Directors on Dec. 29, the current board voted 3-2 to determine that that prior action was annulled because the motion that was made was unclear, ambiguous, and had insufficient definition to determine what, if any, action was actually taken,” said district counsel Frank Oswalt. “In effect, it has concluded that there are no master PLAs with either the trades council or IBEW 47.”

The statement was made during the Tuesday, Jan. 5, IID Board of Directors meeting while discussing the validity of action taken early in December. 

A project-labor agreement is a pre-hire collective-bargaining agreement with one or more labor groups that establishes employment conditions for specific construction projects.

The district’s agreement, originally passed on Dec. 1, is a 10-year agreement that covers any construction projects estimated to cost more than $750,000.

At a special meeting at the end of December, Director JB Hamby contended the board’s action in early December was ambiguous and vague, citing board language during the Dec. 1 meeting. 

“Let’s go to item 25,” Galindo said during the earlier meeting. “Do I have a motion? I need a motion and a second. … Go ahead, Director Ortega.”

Ortega responded, “Yes, I make the motion.”

Galindo said, “You have a motion, OK. Do I have a second?”

Then vice-president of the board, Alex Cardenas, replied, “I’ll second that motion, Madam President.”

Galindo said, “OK, so I have a motion by Director Ortega, a second by Director Cardenas. Is there any further discussion? Director Kuhn, anything else you’d like to add?”

Then-Director Bruce Kuhn said, “No ma’am, it sounds like it’s over.”

Galindo said, “Director Hanks, is there anything else you’d like to add?”

Director Jim Hanks said, “nope.”

Ortega, Galindo, and Cardenas, who had indicated support for the project-labor agreement earlier in the Dec. 1 meeting, voted for the motion, while Kuhn and Hanks, who had both mentioned problems they had with the project-labor agreement as proposed, voted against the motion.

“This has been placed just on the information agenda because the board recognizes this is an important matter to a lot of different members of the public and potential stakeholders and wanted to be clear exactly as to the import as to the action taken Dec. 29,” Oswalt continued, before he advised the board to be cautious on what was said during the meeting as, he said, he expects “this will likely be the subject of future litigation.”

Cardenas objected to the claim that the action was ambiguous.

“I knew very clearly what I was voting on,” he said.

The decision was not without critics as Tom Enslow, representative from the Imperial County Building and Construction Trades Council, spoke against annulling the agreement. 

“Contrary to the narrative presented in the agenda memorandum, the IID board lawfully approved the PLA at the Dec. 1, 2020, hearing,” he said. “Those documents have been signed by all parties. They’re legally binding contracts that cannot be unilaterally rescinded or declared invalid after the fact. Contrary to the narrative presented in the board’s memorandum, the Dec. 1 agenda packet made clear what documents were being voted on. There was no confusion among the board members on that day, which is demonstrated by the fact that no board members requested clarification on what they were being asked to vote on.”

No vote took place at the Jan. 5 meeting.

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