Labor dispute halts solar project 

Construction was halted on a city-backed solar power plant — which is already running 18 months behind schedule — due to a dispute between two trade groups.

Dozens of low-income neighborhoods where laborers were promised jobs protested Tuesday at the Sunset Reservoir construction site against a city ruling that virtually all work on the power plant must be completed at union electricians’ pay. Since the higher rate is imposed, the more-skilled electrician will be hired instead of the laborers.

The ruling means nine laborers currently working at the site will probably be terminated, said Jeffrey Yee, owner of electrical
subcontractor Bass Electric. “It’s really unfortunate,” he said.

The workers were being paid about half the electricians’ wages of more than $50 an hour for doing work such as installation of brackets for panels and similar devices.

The company overseeing the project, Recurrent Energy, shut down the site Tuesday to ensure worker safety, CEO Arno Harris said.

An emergency meeting of city, labor, private sector and other project stakeholders is planned today.

As reported by The Examiner, three laborers were sent home Monday after arriving for their first day of work because of Friday’s ruling.

Under conditions imposed by city leaders, 21 local laborers from disadvantaged neighborhoods are supposed to be working on the project, but only nine were at the site Monday. The laborers are trained by The City.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, on the other hand, places its members on jobs from anywhere in the region.

Protest organizer Aboriginal Blackmen United, a Bayview district group that placed laborers on the project, plans a similar action today, according to founder James Richards.

“Unless we work, nobody works,” he said.

The 5-megawatt power plant was planned in 2008 to be operating by mid-2009. It’s now forecast to be ready to produce power by the end of the year, according to Harris.

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