Mysterious Union Slush Fund Spends $100,000 Against Costa Mesa Charter

As explained by the League of California Cities, the California Constitution gives cities the authority to enact “charters” and thereby manage their purely municipal affairs without interference from the state. Cities have been increasingly eager to seek charters in recent years in order to free themselves from costly state mandates. Since 2007, voters have increased the number of charter cities from 107 to 121, and voters in three more cities will have the opportunity to consider approving charters on November 6, 2012.

Here are web links to the three proposed charters and the support and opposition web sites for the three proposed charters:

1. City of Escondido (San Diego County) – population 146,032

2. City of Costa Mesa (Orange County) – population 111,600

3. City of Grover Beach (San Luis Obispo County) – population 13,275

  • Charter Proposal as Presented on City Web Site: Measure I-12
  • Yes on I-12 Web Site: Vote Yes on Measure I-12
  • No on I-12 Web Site: http://www.protectgroverbeach.com

The most aggressive opponents of proposed charters are unions, particularly construction trade unions. (See Who Defeated the City of Auburn’s Proposed Charter, and How Was It Done? Answer: Three Union Entities, by Spending $56.40 Per NO Vote.) As confirmed by a California Supreme Court decision in July 2012 (State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, AFL-CIO v. City of Vista), charter cities have the right to establish their own policies concerning government-mandated construction wage rates (so-called “prevailing wages”).

In almost all cases, the state determines the wage rate by adding up all of the employer payments (including payments that are not employee compensation) indicated within the union collective bargaining agreement that applies to a specific trade within the specific geographical region that falls within the jurisdiction of the union agreement. The state does not survey contractors or workers to determine an average or median wage, nor does it consider regional wage statistics calculated by the California Economic Development Department. As a result, state-mandated construction wage rates in California are often much higher than the actual wage rates in a locality. But with a charter, a city can set its own rates for its own projects.

For a comprehensive 92-page guide about government-mandated construction wage rates in California and the status of prevailing wage policies in California’s 121 charter cities, see the recently-published 3rd edition of Are Charter Cities Taking Advantage of State Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Exemptions?

As listed above, voters in the City of Costa Mesa have the opportunity on November 6, 2012 to consider Measure V, which would enact a charter. Mailboxes are stuffed daily with slick full-color productions telling the citizens of Costa Mesa how awful life will be if the city frees itself from the benevolent California State Legislature and adopts its own mini-constitution.  (See some of these mailers below.)

ONE entity has spent $100,000 against Measure V as of September 30. (At the rate those mailers are pouring in, it’s likely much more has been spent in October.)

The donor is the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust. Have you ever heard of it?

The secretive California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust is the sole direct contributor (of at least $100,000) to the No on V campaign in Costa Mesa.

What is the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust? Where does it spend its money? How does it get its money?

If you want a more detailed but still shadowy idea of how this group spends its ill-gotten money, you can read my May 31, 2012 article Where the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust Spends Its Money: Now We See How Unions Spread It. But here is a list of the top recipients:

  1. $1,095,000 – Taxpayers to Preserve Community Jobs, No on Measure A, sponsored by labor and management organizations (June 5, 2012 election in City of San Diego)
  2. $770,000 – UCLA Labor Center (aka UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education), part of the University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Program
  3. $250,000 – No 98/Yes 99 – A Committee of City and County Associations, Taxpayers and Environmental Groups, League of California Cities, Californians for Neighborhood Protection, Coalition of Conservationists
  4. $164,550 – “Other” (?)
  5. $100,000 – Apollo Alliance
  6. $100,000 – Paxton-Patterson Construction Lab/Shop in San Joaquin County
  7. $50,000 – Taxpayers to Preserve Community Jobs, No On Measure G, sponsored by labor and management organizations (June 8, 2010 election in City of Chula Vista)

But what’s more interesting is the source of at least some of this money, if not all of it.

A Mysterious Union Slush Fund, Authorized by an Obscure 1978 Federal Law to Encourage Better Relationships Between Unions and Manufacturers, Gave $100,000 to No on Measure V

The California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust contributed a total of $100,000 to the No on Measure V campaign. This is an extraordinarily high amount for a political contribution from one entity, especially concerning a local ballot measure! The head of the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust is Bob Balgenorth, who is also head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, based in Sacramento.

This is NOT a traditional Political Action Committee. It is an arcane type of union trust authorized by the obscure Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978, a law signed by President Jimmy Carter and implemented by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Inspired by the decline of unionized manufacturing in the Northeast, this federal law was meant to help industrial management and union officials build better personal relationships and cooperate against the threat of outside competition. There are no federal or state regulations specifically addressed toward these trusts, and these trusts do not have any reporting requirements to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards. This is an ambiguous and forgotten law that’s ripe for abuse.

It’s Not Union Members that Give the Money to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust: It’s Utility Ratepayers and Contractors Working for Extorted Power Plant Owners

Since the 1990s, whenever an energy company or public utility submits an application to the California Energy Commission seeking approval of a new power plant, an organization called California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) often “intervenes” in the licensing process. Represented by the South San Francisco law firm Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo, CURE submits massive data requests and environmental objections to the California Energy Commission. The applicant by law is required to answer CURE’s submissions, at significant cost and delay. The chairman of California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) is Bob Balgenorth (see above).

If the power plant owner agrees to require its construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California or its regional affiliates, CURE’s objections fade away and the power plant proceeds unhindered through the licensing process. If the company or utility does not surrender to CURE’s demand, then CURE’s interference and lawsuits continue.

This racket – sometimes called “greenmail” because it’s the use of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and federal environmental laws to pressure developers to sign Project Labor Agreements – is well-known to the energy industry in California and has been extensively reported in the news media over the past dozen years. (For example, see Labor Coalition’s Tactics on Renewable Energy Projects Are Criticized – Los Angeles Times – February 5, 2011.)

For cases in which the power plant applicant succumbs to CURE’s harassment, the Project Labor Agreement that the power plant owner signs usually contains a provision requiring the owner or its contractors to make a lump-sum payment or series of payments to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust.

For example, the Project Labor Agreement signed by the Northern California Power Agency (a conglomerate of publicly-owned utilities) for the construction of the Lodi Energy Center required the agency to shell out $90,000 to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust. That amount was dutifully mailed to Bob Balgenorth on August 17, 2010. (For more on this payment, see High Energy: Lodi Center Designed to be a Powerhouse for Chunk of State – Stockton Record – October 4, 2011; also, the union rebuttal on the California Building Trades Council web site – ABC Falsehoods Refuted in Letter to Stockton Record – a denial that the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust is used for political contributions.)

And Section 13.1 of the Project Labor Agreement signed by the Southern California Public Power Authority (another conglomerate of publicly-owned utilities) for the construction of the City of Anaheim’s Canyon Power Plant required the agency to shell out $65,000 to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust.

The California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust reports these payments as “membership dues” to the Internal Revenue Service. Which brings up a question: are the local elected officials who serve as commissioners for the Northern California Power Agency and the Southern California Public Power Authority exercising their responsibilities as “members” to approve $100,000 in political contributions to the No on Measure V campaign in Costa Mesa?

But Wait a Minute…Is It Legal to Have Utility Ratepayers Fund a Mysterious Union Trust Fund that Contributes to Political Campaigns, Such as No on Measure V in Costa Mesa?

In 2009, an internal committee of the Northern California Power Agency discussed whether or not a payment to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust was an illegal gift of public funds. (Note the original amount to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust was supposed to be $150,000, but aggressive opposition to the Project Labor Agreement forced the unions to cut it down to $90,000 in order to win approval from the board of commissioners.)

To solve this uncertainty, in May 2011 State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) added a cryptic amendment at the request of union lobbyists and lawyers to the end of a large unrelated public utilities bill (Senate Bill 790) regarding “community choice aggregation.” It added Section 3260 to the Public Utilities Code: “Nothing in this division prohibits payments pursuant to an agreement authorized by the National Labor Relations Act (29 U.S.C. Sec. 151 et seq.), or payments permitted by the federal Labor Management Cooperation Act of 1978 (29 U.S.C. Secs. 173, 175a, and 186). Nothing in this division restricts any use permitted by federal law of money paid pursuant to these acts.”

No one in the California State Legislature – apparently not even Senator Leno – initially knew what this strange new provision meant. In the end, a few legislators such as Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) came to understand and reveal in floor debate that it authorized public utilities to pass on the costs of payments to labor-management cooperation committees to ratepayers. Governor Brown signed the bill into law with the language tacked on the end.

It’s a tangled conspiracy. Especially intriguing is that one union official is the head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust, and California Unions for Reliable Energy. For more information, see the investigative report of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction at this September 23, 2011 post at www.TheTruthaboutPLAs.comA Genuine California Union Conspiracy: Senate Bill 790 and the California Building Trades Council’s Ratepayer Funded Political Slush Fund

Confused about the Conspiracy? Here’s a Chart.

A public utility or private energy company applies to the California Energy Commission for approval to build a power plant.

California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) uses its “intervenor” status at the California Energy Commission to submit massive data requests and environmental complaints about the proposed power plant, as a result gumming up the licensing process and causing costly and lengthy delays for the applicant.

 ↓

Applicant for prospective power plant surrenders and agrees to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California or its regional affiliates. California Unions for Reliable Energy releases its grip of legal paperwork and the project moves forward unimpeded and acclaimed as environmentally sound.

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The Project Labor Agreement contains a required payment or payments to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative TrustCalifornia Public Utilities Code Section 3260 – enacted by Senate Bill 790 in 2011 – allows public utilities to pass costs through to ratepayers.

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The California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust reports those payments to the IRS as “Membership Dues,” creating questions about the rights inherent for dues-paying members.

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The California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust makes contributions to political campaigns, such as $100,000 to fund 100% of the No on Measure V anti-charter campaign (Committee for Costa Mesa’s Future, No on V, sponsored by labor and management organizations) in the City of Costa Mesa in 2012.

Solutions

Is there any way this racket can be stopped? Yes. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor Management Standards could promulgate regulations that establish restrictions and reporting guidelines for committees authorized by the Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978. Even better, Congress could pass legislation amending or repealing the law, and the President could sign it.

In the meantime, enjoy some of the No on V mailers below, brought to you by the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust!

Is this a photo of a typical meeting of the board of directors of the California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperative Trust?

If the union officials running the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust had read Are Charter Cities Taking Advantage of State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Exemptions?, they would have known that Mammoth Lakes is NOT a charter city.

They should have used a photo of Los Angeles and a photo of the state capitol to show who calls the shots when a California city doesn’t operate under a charter.

Is this the joint in Sacramento where the board of directors of the California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperative Trust goes for drinks after deciding to spend more money against the proposed Costa Mesa charter?

OK, I get it. If you’re concerned about crushing debt, government mismanagement, and lack of public accountability, vote against the charter and leave your municipal affairs to the prudent and responsible leaders of the California State Legislature.

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.

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