Non-union construction coalition complains to Antioch Councilmembers about desal plant over budget and behind schedule

Antioch’s $110 million Brackish Water Desalination plant project is currently under construction. Herald file photo from August 2022.

Cost is now $50 million more than original budget

“In 24 years of fighting PLAs I have never seen a PLA come in this far over budget. Ever. Congrats.” – Eric Christen, Executive Director, Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction

By Allen D. Payton

In a letter to the Antioch City Council on Monday, April 17, 2023, Eric Christen, Executive Director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction complained about the $50 million cost increase for the city’s brackish water desalination plant, which he blames on the union-only hire project labor agreement (PLA) and because the project is now behind schedule.

Following is his letter sent via email:


While this email will not be as embarrassing as seeing the video of Mayor go viral for losing his mind towards a citizen it will, nevertheless, still be humiliating assuming that is a trait any of the council still possess.


When the Antioch City Council placed, on a 3-2 vote, a discriminatory and costly Project Labor Agreement (PLA) on the Brackish Desalinization Plant in 2018 we warned you not only what it would do to discriminate against local construction workers, 80% of whom are union-free, but what it would do to increase costs for regional ratepayers. Judging by the manner in which you snuck the approval for the contract to build it through in 2020 on the night before Christmas so as to avoid public input, you obviously did not want to be reminded let alone be held to account. At that meeting, a meeting that was noticed to the public 24 hours previous, the Council voted 5-0 to award the contract to build the project. Why the last minute, dark of night “special meeting”? Simple: A project that staff had estimated would cost $60 million before the PLA was now awarded for more than $86 million. But there was also a 5% contingency of more than $4 million in case of “unforeseen costs” (count on it) for a total of more than $91 million. But there is more. In addition, the Council authorized city staff to increase the total budget for the desalination project to $110 million! In 24 years of fighting PLAs I have never seen a PLA come in this far over budget. Ever. Congrats.

For those not on the Council at the time here is an explanation of the bigotry the Antioch City Council approved of in the form of the PLA back in 2018:  This monopoly “agreement” was crafted by and for local construction union bosses. It forces all workers to pay union dues, pay into union pensions they will never vest in (that’s wage theft) and explicitly discriminates against young men and women in state approved non-union apprentice programs by banning them from working at all. Any union-free contractor who works on the job is only allowed a few of their own employees, period, with all others coming from union hiring halls. The result? Reduced bidders and increased costs. Why? 80% of the local workforce is, again, union-free, as is the state’s construction workforce. That number holds true for the local contractor base as well. These companies simply do not bid work with PLAs on it, so the results are higher bids from those who do, as every major study conducted proves and as Antioch just learned firsthand.

Now we see the project is behind schedule as well and not set to be completed until Spring of 2024, a full year behind schedule.

As we see yet again, PLA proponents over promise and under perform.

A group of elected officials who took their fiduciary responsibility to ratepayers seriously would have rebid this project without a PLA and compared costs but this Council’s canine affection for big labor special interests would not allow for this. So here we are.

PLA proponents will wax on about how a PLA will help with “local hire” but of course nothing in the PLA mandates local workers be hired and, again, even if it did the PLA just made that more difficult as most construction workers in the region are non-union.

We will continue to monitor this debacle and make sure citizens are kept updated because at the end of the day this type of fiscally irresponsible and morally egregious behavior needs to be accounted for by voters.

Eric Christen, Executive Director, Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction


Question for Councilmembers

The council members were asked if they had any response to Christen’s letter. Only District 2 Councilman Mike Barbanica responded.

“I spoke to the project manager over the past couple months informally that there’s potentially overages,” he said. “But I haven’t seen anything formal, yet. I will be provided a tour and I will pursue it, then.”

This started in 2018 before I was elected,” he added.

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