The eastern suburbs of San Diego (“East County”) have been and are still regarded as politically conservative. But even this area isn’t impervious to the political movement in California toward European-style social democracy. Labor unions and their political allies have recently gained political control of an East County local government and are now exercising their power.
But there is resistance. While the suburbs of San Francisco and Los Angeles have largely surrendered to “Progressive” policies during the past 20 years, there’s still a well-organized, well-funded effort in the San Diego region to defend fiscal responsibility, fair and open competition for government contracts, and freedom of choice for contractor employees. This effort will be tested at the October 20, 2015 meeting of the elected board of trustees of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District.
Unions Angle for a Monopoly on Suburban Educational Construction
As seen at many suburban educational districts in California, leadership in the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District has shifted during the past few election cycles from traditionally pragmatic board members to board members who are interested in social change and supported by union interests. One recent subtle indication of this transformation was a board endorsement of rather unconventional political activists speaking on campus. Now, the board is becoming more aggressive and obvious in advancing a new agenda through the college.
On October 20, the board will vote on this resolution: “Directing Staff to Negotiate the Terms of a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for Projects Funded by Proposition V, State Bonds/Parking and Other Facilities Funding.” In other words, the board intends to give construction trade unions a monopoly on future construction contracts for the district.
This means construction companies will have to sign a deal negotiated by the college district’s representatives and union representatives. Left out of the negotiations will be contractors and their business associations, including associations that traditionally negotiate labor agreements. Contractors have one role: sign the agreement someone else negotiated for them.
In a typical Project Labor Agreement, unions supply all workers (including apprentices). Fringe benefit payments from employers on behalf of workers are directed into union-affiliated trust funds. And workers pay union dues and fees.
Adopting a government-mandated Project Labor Agreement is contrary to specific language included in the district’s August 7, 2012 bond resolution. That language was meant to assure voters in the November 2012 election that the district wouldn’t require contractors to sign a union agreement as a condition of working on projects funded by the $398 million Proposition V bond measure. Here is the language:
(j) …the District will promote fair and open competition for all District construction projects so that all contractors and workers, whether union or non-union, are treated equally in the bidding and awarding of District construction contracts…
Contrary to common sense and legislative intent, the district now claims that this provision actually means it is allowed to require its contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements. The district’s argument is based on a web of federal and state laws and court decisions often interpreted to mean that if a contractor chooses not to operate like a union company or a worker chooses not to be represented by a union, they’re not victims of discrimination.
Instead, they’re simply making a free choice to refuse to abide by conditions that a government – as a participant in the marketplace – establishes for awarding a contract. In other words, if you choose not to be affiliated with a union, don’t complain. You’re still free to bid on a different project, find another job, find another trade or profession, or join the exodus of the rest of your kind and leave California for Texas, Florida, or the 23 states that ban Project Labor Agreements.
Groups Decide to Expose the Scheme to the Public
Presumably the college district’s board and administrators haven’t been too worried about pulling this bait-and-switch on voters. In 2000, 53% of California voters approved Proposition 39, which reduced the voter approval threshold for most school and college bond measures from two-thirds to 55%. In the following 15 years, the accountability and oversight protections in the California Constitution and in state law related to Proposition 39 have been narrowed, whittled away, and neutralized to virtual uselessness.
Nowadays California school and college districts routinely circumvent or evade state laws regarding school construction finance and implementation. Their lawyers and advisors exploit every ambiguity in law to justify finance and spending decisions that voters never would have tolerated. (Using bond proceeds – borrowed money that must be paid back with interest – to buy iPads for students is one of many examples.)
Public accountability is infrequent. Legal or political consequences are rare. But in this case of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, people are determined to expose and stop it.
The San Diego County Taxpayers Association issued a press release revoking its 2012 endorsement of Proposition V if the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District board votes for the Project Labor Agreement. Its endorsement in 2012 has been predicated on the bond resolution that committed to fair and open bid competition on district construction funded by Proposition V.
To increase public awareness of the betrayal, the San Diego County Taxpayers Association also sent a mailer informing voters of the Project Labor Agreement vote:
At the same time, the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction – a statewide organization with significant strength in San Diego – also sent a mailer informing voters of the Project Labor Agreement vote:
It’s expected that the board of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District will vote on October 20, 2015 to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement with unions. They are bound to the unions like a contractor and its employees are bound to a Project Labor Agreement. But their political careers may end when East County citizens living in the district express their opinions with their own votes.
Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.