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Unions Seek Control of Recent California School Bond Measures

Has California school and community college facility construction become a perpetual government stimulus program for politically-favored construction trade unions?

Prop 39 BannerFifteen years ago, it was obvious that many school and college districts in California needed new construction, modernization, or renovation of their facilities for the safety and comfort of students, teachers, administrators, and support staff. That’s why 53% of California voters approved Proposition 39 in November 2000. It reduced the threshold for voter approval of school bond measures from two-thirds to 55%, increasing the passage rate for educational bond measures from under 50% to more than 80%.

But the purpose of borrowing money for school construction seemed to evolve after the 2008 economic collapse and subsequent November 2008 election.

Debt started piling up from relentless and repeated bond sales to investors. The “need” for more construction seemed immeasurable and unquenchable. Scandals began to pop up as clever people began to figure out how to manipulate the loopholes and ambiguities in ten year-old state laws regarding finance and construction of educational facilities.

Meanwhile, construction trade unions became much more aggressive in trying to monopolize educational construction by lobbying elected school board members for Project Labor Agreements. And local school and college elected boards became much more willing to grant those union monopolies.

Local elected officials in California recognized that political circumstances had changed. To quote a San Diego Unified School District board member immediately before the 3-2 vote on May 26, 2009 for a Project Labor Agreement:

I think the bigger picture that people are realizing – and this is what scares some people – is that San Diego is changing, the United States is changing…this is a different city…we are looking at a different community.

What has resulted from this change? A lot of debt has been imposed on future generations of Californians.

The California Policy Center released a report in July 2015 entitled For the Kids: California Voters Must Become Wary of Borrowing Billions More from Wealthy Investors for Educational Construction. This report identified $146 billion in authorized borrowing from 2001 to 2014 for California educational facility construction and $200 billion in existing debt service from bonds sold to pay for California educational facility construction.

In response to this report, some taxpayer advocates have asserted that momentum for additional local educational bond measures is propelled by construction trade unions that see local education districts as ripe targets to accumulate a pool of guaranteed government work. Union leaders remain nervous about the state’s economic prospects. They don’t want a painful revival of membership unemployment rates of 25%-50% experienced from 2009 to 2012.

Is this argument valid?

Below is a list of all of the K-12 school and college bond measures approved by voters in the last four primary and general elections (in 2012 and 2014) that became targets of construction unions for a government-mandated Project Labor Agreement (PLA).

 

Bond Measures Approved by Voters in June 2012

 

Amount Authorized to Borrow Name of School or College District Voter Approval Percentage Project Labor Agreement Activity
West Valley-Mission Community College District

$350,000,000

59.8%

Board approves PLA for upcoming “pilot project” 8/20/13.

Milpitas Unified School District

$95,000,000

64.1%

Board approves PLA 12/11/12.

Bond Measures Approved by Voters in November 2012

 

San Diego Unified School District

$2,800,000,000

61.8%

PLA approved in 2009 extends to this bond measure.

Coast Community College District

$698,000,000

57.2%

Board votes 5/15/13 to end consideration of a PLA.

Oakland Unified School District

$475,000,000

84.4%

PLA approved in 2004 extends to this bond measure.

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District

$385,000,000

68.1%

Board discusses PLA 11/20/14.

Board votes for contract to negotiate PLA 4/16/15.

West Contra Costa Unified School District

$360,000,000

64.4%

PLA approved in 2000 extends to all bond measures.

Cerritos Community College District

$350,000,000

70.3%

Board discusses PLA 4/16/14 and 6/4/14.

Solano Community College District

$348,000,000

63.5%

Board approves PLA 12/4/13.

Sacramento City Unified School District

$346,000,000

70.1%

Board votes 1/23/14 to extend PLA approved in 2005 to this bond measure.

Rancho Santiago Community College District

$198,000,000

72.6%

Board approves PLA 3/24/14.

Alum Rock Union Elementary School District

$125,000,000

79.5%

Board approves PLA 6/18/13.

East Side Union High School District

$120,000,000

71.6%

Revised PLA approved in 2009 extends to this bond measure.

Lynwood Unified School District

$93,000,000

57.4%

Board approves PLA 2/12/13.

Inglewood Unified School District

$90,000,000

86.1%

Board approves PLA 10/26/12.

Chula Vista Elementary School District SFID No. 1

$90,000,000

68.8%

Board approves negotiations for a PLA 4/15/15.

Oxnard School District

$90,000,000

66.4%

Board approves PLA 6/24/15.

Sacramento City Unified School District

$68,000,000

67.9%

Board votes 1/23/14 to extend PLA approved in 2005 to this bond measure.

Antioch Unified School District SFID No. 1

$56,500,000

62.8%

Board approves PLA 11/13/13.

Whittier City Unified School District

$55,000,000

72.4%

Board approves PLA 1/13/15.

Washington Unified School District

$22,000,000

72.8%

Board imposed a union-backed apprenticeship requirement for contractors and used it to disqualify non-union company from contract.

Bond Measures Approved by Voters in June 2014

 

Fremont Unified School District

$650,000,000

61.2%

Board approves negotiations for a PLA 8/12/15.

Contra Costa Community College District

$450,000,000

57.6%

Board approves PLA 10/10/12 for all projects of $2 million or more.

Culver City Unified School District

$106,000,000

76.3%

Community Budget Advisory Committee discusses PLA 5/27/15.

Bond Measures Approved by Voters in November 2014

 

Santa Clara Unified School District

$419,000,000

69.4%

Board discusses PLA 3/26/15.

PLA discussion scheduled for 8/13/15.

Sonoma County Community College District

$410,000,000

63.1%

Union officials have openly declared intent to lobby for a PLA.

College administrators have met with legal counsel regarding PLA.

San Mateo County Community College District

$388,000,000

66.2%

Board discusses PLA 7/8/15.

Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District

$375,000,000

57.4%

Board discusses PLA 3/25/15.

San Luis Obispo County Community College District (Cuesta)

$275,000,000

62.6%

Board discusses PLA 2/4/15.

Board voted down PLA negotiations at 3/4/15 meeting.

Hayward Unified School District

$229,000,000

77.4%

Board votes for PLA 6/24/15.

Vacaville Unified School District

$194,000,000

62.0%

Board discusses PLA 3/9/15.

Board votes for PLA negotiations 6/25/15.

Alameda Unified School District

$179,500,000

62.8%

PLA discussion scheduled for 8/11/15.

Santa Rosa High School District

$175,000,000

64.0%

Union officials have openly declared intent to lobby for a PLA.

Salinas Union High School District

$128,000,000

60.3%

Board discusses PLA 3/24/15 and 5/12/15.

Board votes for PLA negotiations 5/26/15.

East Side Union High School District

$113,200,000

67.9%

PLA that applied to Measures G and E amended – apparently administratively – to cover Measure I.

Azusa Unified School District

$92,000,000

56.2%

Board discusses PLA 3/17/15.

Pittsburg Unified School District

$85,000,000

68.5%

Ballot arguments against the bond measure focused on PLAs imposed on previous bond measures; supporters’ rebuttal defended the PLAs.

Berryessa Union School District

$77,000,000

69.3%

Board votes for contract to negotiate PLA 3/10/15.

Santa Rosa Elementary School District

$54,000,000

69.1%

Union officials have openly declared intent to lobby for a PLA.

Washington Unified School District

$49,800,000

67.4%

Board imposed a union-backed apprenticeship requirement for contractors and used to disqualify non-union company from contract.

Bassett Unified School District

$30,000,000

62.4%

Board voted for PLA negotiations 1/20/15.

 

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.

Construction Unions Could Grab Billions Through Education Bonds

Among the many Californians who only occasionally vote in elections, how many understand what they’re doing when they vote for a “bond measure” for a K-12 school district or community college district? They know it’s “for the kids,” but do they know that when they authorize a school district to sell bonds to fund construction, it is borrowing money from institutional investors and wealthy individuals? Do they consider the cost implications, such as how this borrowed money must be paid back – with interest – directly through the taxes of property owners and indirectly through rent and lease payments to landlords?

Presidential elections attract the highest voter turnouts, and as a greater number of people vote, a higher proportion of them are a little fuzzy on some of the policy details. They tend to vote on emotional impulses and are more likely to respond favorably to simple arguments such as “it’s for the kids.” It’s conventional wisdom among California political consultants that voters in Presidential general elections tend to be more likely than voters in primary or off-year elections to approve ballot measures that authorize bond sales.

Perhaps that explains why the November 6, 2012 election includes the highest number of ballot measures ever recorded authorizing California’s K-12 and community college districts to borrow money for construction by selling bonds. As reported by School Services of California and reprinted on September 26, 2012 by the Coalition for Adequate School Housing (CASH) as “K-14 School Facility Bonds Dominate the Ballot,” it’s going to be an election that brings huge new debt burdens to the people of California through authorized bond sales:

School agencies have qualified 106 school facilities ballot measures worth a total of $11.6 billion for the November election. This eclipses the previous high number of measures, 96, which occurred in November 2008. Included within that total are two traditional general obligation (GO) bonds requiring a two-thirds majority vote for passage and 104 Proposition 39 measures requiring a 55% majority approval. The measures are broad-based, including eight community college elections and four school facility improvement district (SFID) elections. They also extend to every corner of the state.

The article also makes some election predictions:

If past trends hold true, more than 70% of the school agency measures on the ballot will pass. But every election is different, and in this one, voters are faced with a hotly contested presidential election, two major school funding measures, a number of high-profile, very controversial measures, and we are still caught in the throes of economic malaise. Our prediction, therefore, is that voters will go to the polls and support passage of these measures and that the results will be even better than recent history would suggest. Our experience is that when times get tough, voters are much more likely to take matters in their own hands and turn to the local ballot box, not the state, for support for their children.

Obviously, $11.6 billion in taxpayer money (not including state matching grants) attracts special interests looking to get themselves a guaranteed piece of the action. These interests, of course, include construction trade unions.

So which of California’s K-12 school districts and community college districts with bond measures for construction on the November 2012 ballot have a history of requiring their construction contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) with trade unions as a condition of working on projects funded by bond measures? Quite a few:

San Diego Unified School District $2.8 billion
Oakland Unified School District $475 million
Sacramento City Unified School District $346 million +$68 million =$414 million
West Contra Costa Unified School District $360 million
Solano Community College District (Solano County) $348 million
Rancho Santiago Community College District (Orange County) $198 million
Alum Rock Union School District (San Jose) $125 million
East Side Union High School District (San Jose) $120 million

Also, some of the projects to be funded by the San Ramon Valley Unified School District’s $260 million proposed bond measure were at one time covered under a developer-negotiated Project Labor Agreement for electrical and plumbing work. That agreement reportedly contained a successor clause to continue coverage after the project was transferred from the developer to the school district.

In addition, school boards of three other school districts with bond measures on the November 6, 2012 ballot have been lobbied aggressively in the past by union officials for a Project Labor Agreement. These will certainly remain targets for Project Labor Agreements:

San Jose Unified District (2003) $290 million
San Bernardino City Unified School District (2010) $250 million
Jefferson Union High School District (2007) $41.9 million

Finally, the Stockton Unified School District approved a resolution in 2007 requiring contractors to obtain apprentices from eligible state-approved training programs that have “graduated apprentices annually for at least the past five (5) years.” The policy was aimed at non-union (and union) apprenticeship programs that the state might approve in the future to compete against existing union apprenticeship programs. Apprentices in those new programs would not be allowed to get on-the-job training on Stockton Unified School District construction projects.

Stockton Unified School District $156 million

If predictions are correct about the November 2012 election results for bond measures, construction unions throughout the state will have plenty of work guaranteed through government-mandated Project Labor Agreements and other tricky arrangements to get union monopolies on taxpayer-funded construction. Keep in mind that many of these school districts will also obtain matching grants for these projects from the State Allocation Board – grants funded by bond sales totaling $35.8 billion authorized by three past statewide propositions:

Want more documentation? Below is a list of Project Labor Agreements that contractors have been required or will be required to sign to work on school construction, along with links to the actual agreements.

Government-Mandated Project Labor Agreements for K-12 School and Community College Construction Projects

MARIN COUNTY
College of Marin (Marin Community College District) Project Labor Agreement 2008 Measure C
CITY and COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO
City College of San Francisco Project Labor Agreement 2005
 
San Francisco Unified School District Project Labor Agreement 2008 Measure A (2006 Version)
SAN MATEO COUNTY
San Mateo Community College District Project Labor Agreement 2003
 
San Mateo Community College District Project Labor Agreement 2007 Amendment No. 1 
 
San Mateo Union High School District Project Labor Agreement 2002 – San Mateo High School Modernization
 
San Mateo Union High School District Project Labor Agreement 2009 Measure M
 
San Mateo Union High School District Project Labor Agreement 2009 Measure M Solar Work Amendment 2010
 
San Mateo Union High School District Project Labor Agreement 2009 Measure M Additional Work Amendment 2011
 
South San Francisco Unified School District Project Labor Agreement 2011 Measure J
SANTA CLARA COUNTY
Alum Rock Union Elementary School District 2009 Measure G
 
East Side Union High School District Project Labor Agreement 2003 Measure G 2009 Measure E
 
Foothill-DeAnza Community College District Project Labor Agreement 2008 Measure G
 
Foothill-DeAnza Community College District Project Labor Agreement 2011 Measure G Amendment No. 1
 
San Jose-Evergreen Community College District Project Labor Agreement 2006 Measure G 2010 Measure G
 
ALAMEDA COUNTY
Albany Unified School District Project Labor Agreement 2005 Measure A
 
Berkeley Unified School District Project Labor Agreement 2011 Measure I
 
Chabot-Los Positas Community College District Project Labor Agreement 2007 Measure B
 
Chabot-Los Positas Community College District Project Labor Agreement 2010 Measure B Amendment No. 1
 
Fremont Union High School District Project Labor Agreement 2009 All Outdoor Athletic Facilities
 
Hayward Unified School District Project Labor Agreement 2009 Measure I
 
Oakland Unified School District Project Labor Agreement 2003 Measure A (Original)
 
Oakland Unified School District Project Labor Agreement 2005 (Revised) Measure A and Subsequent Measure B
 
Peralta Community College District (Oakland & Berkeley) Project Labor Agreement 2009
San Leandro Unified School District Project Labor Agreement 2007 Measure B
San Leandro Unified School District Project Labor Agreement 2007 Measure B Amendment No. 1 Measure M 2012
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY
San Leandro Unified School District Project Labor Agreement 2007 Measure B Amendment No. 1 Measure M 2012
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY
Contra Costa Community College District Project Labor Agreement 2012 Measure A (2006)
 
John Swett Unified School District Project Labor Agreement 2009 Measure A
 
Mt. Diablo Unified School District Project Labor Agreement 2006 Measure C Pilot Projects
 
Pittsburg Unified School District Project Labor Agreement 2004 Measure E
 
West Contra Costa Unified School District Project Labor Agreement
SOLANO COUNTY
Vallejo City Unified School District Project Labor Agreement Measure A 2001
 
Solano Community College District Project Labor Agreement Measure G 2004
SACRAMENTO COUNTY
Sacramento City Unified School District Project Labor Agreement Measures E and I 2005
 
Sacramento City Unified School District Project Labor Agreement Measures E and I 2005 Amendment No. 1 2009
LOS ANGELES COUNTY
Centinela Valley Union High School District Project Labor Agreement – Proposition CV and California Emergency Repair Program – 2009
 
Compton Unified School District Project Labor Agreement – Remainder of Measure I – 2005
 
Los Angeles Community College District Project Labor Agreement – Proposition A, Proposition AA, and Measure J – 2001 (Revised through 2011)
 
Los Angeles Unified School District Project Labor Agreement – Proposition BB and Measure K (now also applies to Measure R, Measure Q, future bond measures, and Job Order Contracts) – 2003
 
Los Angeles Unified School District Project Labor Agreement – Proposition BB and Measure K – 2003 – Amendment No. 1
 
Rio Hondo Community College District Project Labor Agreement – Measure A – 2005
 
Pasadena Unified School District Project Labor Agreement (called a “Continuity of Work Agreement) – Measure TT – 2012
 
San Gabriel Unified School District Project Labor Agreement – Measure A – 2010
ORANGE COUNTY
Rancho Santiago Community College District Project Labor Agreement – Measure E – 2003
 
Santa Ana Unified School District Project Labor Agreement – Measure C – 2000
SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY
Rialto Unified School District Project Labor Agreement – Wilmer Amina Carter High School (District High School #3) – 2001
RIVERSIDE COUNTY
Riverside Community College District Project Labor Agreement – Measure C – 2010
SAN DIEGO COUNTY
San Diego Unified School District Project Labor Agreement – Proposition S – 2009

Project Labor Agreements Negotiated by Private Parties for K-12 School and Community College Construction Projects

CONSTRUCTION MANAGER-AT-RISK – MONTEREY COUNTY
Hartnell Community College District Project Labor Agreement – Measure H – 2004 – Negotiated by DPR Construction and Employers’ Advocate – Nullified After Three Small Projects
LEASE-LEASEBACK – KERN COUNTY
Westside Educational Complex for Delano Union School District Project Labor Agreement 2011 between Grapevine Advisors LLC and the Kern, Inyo, Mono Building and Construction Trades Council 
DEVELOPER-BUILT SCHOOLS – CONTRA COSTA COUNTY
San Ramon Valley Center Campus of Contra Costa Community College District Project Labor Agreement between Windemere-Brookfield-Centex and UA Plumbers and Steamfitters Union Local 159
 
Almond Grove Elementary School of Oakley Union Elementary School District Project Labor Agreement 2004 between Pulte Homes and UA Plumbers and Steamfitters Union Local 159, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local 302, and Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 104
 
Seven Schools (Including Creekside Elementary School) of San Ramon Valley Unified School District Project Labor Agreement between Shapell Industries and Windemere and UA Plumbers and Steamfitters Union Local 159 and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local 302 (copy not in my possession)
DEVELOPER-BUILT SCHOOLS – PLACER COUNTY
Junction Elementary School, Barbara Chilton Middle School, and Three Other Schools of Roseville City School District 2005 between Westpark Associates and Signature Properties and UA Plumbers and Steamfitters Union Local 447, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local 340, and Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 162
DEVELOPER-BUILT SCHOOLS – VENTURA COUNTY
Rio Del Mar Elementary School, Rio Vista Middle School, and Another Elementary School of the Rio School District in the RiverPark Development 2004 between RiverPark Development, LLC and Shea Homes with the Ventura County Building and Construction Trades Council
 
Rio Del Mar Elementary School, Rio Vista Middle School, and Another Elementary School of the Rio School District in the RiverPark Development 2007 between RiverPark Development, LLC and Shea Homes with the Ventura County Building and Construction Trades Council – Amendment

Kevin Dayton is the President and CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at .