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September 18, 2020
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Station Avenue project

By: Joshua Farestveit-Moore
April 26, 2019

With construction on the Station Avenue Property in downtown Rohnert Park moving into full swing, it’s looking more and more like the entire project will use non-union labor for the lion’s share of the work. 

Laulima Development, the Station Avenue Project’s developer, did not involve the Operating Engineers Local 3 Union for the demolition of the old State Farm site, according to District Representative Michael Pickens. Normally a failure to enlist union labor in a demolition would only be a blip, but it’s becoming part of a developing pattern. Station Avenue is entering the stage of construction where they’re submitting finalized building plans to the Rohnert Park City Hall. Pending approval, Laulima will be laying the groundwork soon and slapping up some plywood, but to do that they’ll need people to pour the cement and hammer the nails. This is also the stage where IBEW Local 551 Business Manager John McEntagart would expect to be heavily involved. 

Laulima hasn’t contacted IBEW. To McEntagart, this is damning evidence of Laulima intentions. 

“Originally [Laulima] hired Devcon as general contractor and they make a practice of hiring union workers. With Devcon out and Centric General Contractor in’ all of that is in question,” McEntagart said.  “We haven’t heard from Centric yet. We’re not the only trade that has said that.”

So why does it matter who builds the Station Avenue Project?

Well, it all comes down to the source of labor. The Tubbs Fire wrought havoc on Sonoma County and left much of Coffey Park and Fountain Grove in ruin. All of that must be rebuilt and that means workers—lots of workers. Labor is in short supply, and so, according to McEntagart, that means Laulima will likely be shipping people in from outside of Sonoma County.

When Laulima finishes Station Avenue, most of those workers will go home. They’ll go back to wherever they came from and take all of their wages and work experience with them. They won’t buy a house here, they won’t invest in the neighborhoods, and they won’t put down roots. They’ll leave, and the only businesses that will benefit are the hotels and restaurants that housed and fed them during their stay. 

“The pie is huge and there’s plenty of money in development to pay a living wage,” McEntagart said. “The community is supposed to take care of the community. We’re supposed to support each other. But what happens is that when we have big jobs like this—and you see it on highway 37 or the 101 in the morning. Where are those cars coming from? Where are they going to?

“When they say there’s no skilled workers that’s not necessarily true. There’s a shortage if you want to pay them below what they command.”

And the Station Avenue Project is a big project. Laulima was in negotiations with the city of Rohnert Park for well over a year before it found final approval and a lot of people had their finger in the pot. According to Rohnert Park Mayor Gina Belforte, the city had the capability to demand Laulima draw its labor from a union source, but doing so was lost in the shuffle. 

It wasn’t until the very end when we were doing the signing that we had all the labor groups here. Normally it’s at the planning commission that they push that through.”

To be clear, snubbing IBEW Local 551 and the Operating Engineers Local 3 doesn’t preclude Laulima from using union labor elsewhere on the project. The planned parking garage is a prime example of this as it will be built partially from city funds, which would trigger the Prevailing Wage Law. The Prevailing Wage Law acts similar to the minimum wage in that it sets a floor to which Laulima may hire workers. Generally, that floor is about what a union would demand for its work, but it varies on a trade by trade basis and is set by California’s Department of Labor. 

However, there’s nothing, according to Mayor Belforte, within Rohnert Park’s contract with Laulima that would dictate where the developer would draw its labor. 

Laulima was contacted for this story but did not respond in time for publication.