2013: A Dismal Year for Freedom in California Public Works Construction
Elections matter. The November 2012 election was a disaster on the state and local level for advocates of economic and personal freedom in California. It was a culmination of setbacks going back to the November 1996 election and only mildly interrupted by the recall of Governor Gray Davis in October 2003.
Construction trade unions entered the year confident about their political preeminence. How could they not be, with a pro-union Democrat two-thirds super-majority in the California State Assembly and the California State Senate? Here are excerpts from “Prevailing Wage: Moving Forward in California, Backward in Other States,” the monthly column from the head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California for July 2013:
California’s working people have fought together with a tenacious resolve and unity in recent election cycles to elect forward-looking individuals to our Legislature and statewide offices, and we are now working hard as ever to enact good new laws that will secure them a better standard of living. It is gratifying to know that the future is looking brighter for hard-working Californians. But when I read news from elsewhere, I am saddened to see that in many other states, the ultra-rich big business interests are pushing workers backwards, removing hard-won worker protections and slashing their wages, lowering their quality of life and prospects for the future…These attacks on working people around the country illustrate the importance of our work here in California, where we want to protect and expand prevailing wages for workers…We, all of the Building Trades, and each individual local union, fought hard to defeat Proposition 32, which tried to silence our voice. We worked tirelessly to elect public officials that would listen to the concerns of everyday blue collar workers. When we compare these worthy actions with the sad developments in many other states, we see the clear benefits of our unity and activism, and the price Californians could pay if we ever fail to be vigilant, vigorous and united in our fight for a decent quality of life.
As the new head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California (previously the head of the Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council), Robbie Hunter had something to prove. And he did it.
“Has Labor Leader Overreached?” was the provocative headline of an October 9 column written by Dan Morain in the Sacramento Bee. Morain reported on the ambitious legislative agenda of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California and concluded with this thought: “as he seeks to leave his mark, Hunter risks a backlash from powerful forces.”
Hunter didn’t overreach. Governor Brown signed several key union-backed bills, in particular Senate Bill 7, which cuts off state construction funds to charter cities that exercise their right under the California Constitution to establish their own policies concerning government-mandated wage rates (so-called “prevailing wages”) on purely municipal government construction and private projects receiving city financial assistance. In the article “Brown Signs Prevailing Wage Bill,” Capitol Weekly called SB 7 “arguably the most important bill to emerge this year from the Legislature” – for good reason.
Meanwhile, 2013 set a new record for the number of Project Labor Agreements adopted by California state and local government agencies that construction contractors will have to sign with unions as a condition of working on taxpayer-funded projects. Most disturbing was that four of those Project Labor Agreements were implemented without any public deliberation or votes. (See the September 17, 2013 article “California Construction Unions Circumvent Public Scrutiny of Project Labor Agreements” in www.UnionWatch.org.)
Advocates of fair and open competition and fiscal responsibility in the California construction industry fought aggressively to derail the construction union agenda at the state and local level. But their victories were mainly defensive or related to the public exposure of backroom union deals. It will be interesting to see if California shows a significant gain in 2013 in the percentage of construction workers who are members of a union or are represented by a union. The percentage has been steadily declining for 40 years, as reported in the February 5, 2013 article “California’s Unionized Construction Workforce: Surprisingly Low Rates…and Dropping” in www.UnionWatch.org.
2013 Year in Review – Timeline of Political Activity at the State and Local Level for California Public Works Construction
Accomplishment for Advocates of Economic and Personal Freedom
Accomplishment for Construction Trade Unions
|Newport Beach City Council votes 7-0 to exercise its constitutional right as a charter city to establish its own policy concerning government-mandated wage rates (“prevailing wages”).
|In response to an administrative appeal from construction unions, the California Department of Industrial Relations reverses an earlier prevailing wage determination and declares that a proposed hotel and restaurant at Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding is a public works project and therefore subject to state-mandated construction wage rates (“prevailing wage”). The developer then suspends the planned project because of the increased cost of construction.
|Board of Lynwood Unified School District votes 5-0 to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for Measure K projects.
|Board of Ohlone Community College District votes 6-0 to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for Measure G projects.
|El Monte City Council votes 5-0 to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for all capital projects above $500,000.
|Pasadena City Council votes unanimously to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement for the Glenarm Power Plant Repowering Project. California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) had commented on Draft Environmental Impact Report.
|Board of College of Marin votes 6-1 to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for New Academic Center.
|American Canyon City Council holds discussion of Project Labor Agreement for future projects but doesn’t take any action.
|The Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction files a lawsuit against the City of San Diego to obtain withheld public records related to the imposition of a Project Labor Agreement on the San Diego Convention Center Expansion. The city promptly releases a copy of the long-demanded Project Labor Agreement.
|Board of Harnell Community College District (in Salinas) votes 4-3 to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for a new science building.
|Board of San Joaquin-Delta Community College District receives presentation from legal counsel on Project Labor Agreements. No action is taken.
|Board of Coast Community College District (in Orange County) votes 3-2 to end consideration of requiring contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for Measure M projects.
|A Sacramento Bee investigative report reveals that the proposed $2.8 billion Morning View movie studio for the City of Dixon is a fraud. Local construction union officials were major proponents of the project and claimed a commitment for a Project Labor Agreement.
|Without a vote of the Judicial Council, the construction manager selected by the California Administrative Office of the Courts for the New San Diego County Downtown Courthouse enters into a Project Labor Agreement.
|Board of Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority votes unanimously to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for parking structures at Milpitas and Berryessa BART stations.
|Board of El Monte Union High School District votes 5-0 to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for Measure D projects.
|Alameda County Board of Supervisors votes unanimously to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for capital projects above $1 million.
|Marin Healthcare District votes unanimously to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for the Marin General Hospital Replacement project.
|The California Department of Industrial Relations proves that state-mandated construction wage rates (“prevailing wage”) are inflated by announcing a settlement regarding its determination of the San Diego Hilton Bayfront Hotel as a public works project. Workers on the project from 2006 to 2008 will be paid $8,072,273 to receive their full prevailing wage.
|Board of Alum Rock Union Elementary School District (in San Jose) votes 5-0 to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for Measure G projects.
|Board of Harnell Community College District (in Salinas) votes 4-3 to rescind the requirement for a Project Labor Agreement it imposed at its May 7 meeting for a new science building. This is the first Project Labor Agreement mandate rescinded by a vote at a California local government.
|The Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction triumphantly announces that it has finally obtained internal documents from the City of San Diego outlining a secret backroom deal for unions to drop lawsuits and environmental objections to the San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 expansion in exchange for facilitation of a Project Labor Agreement and other economic and political concessions.
|A proposed Project Labor Agreement on the North Bay Maintenance and Operations Facility, approved for negotiations on June 27 by a 5-0 vote of the board of the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority, derails after negotiations are removed from closed session and fundamental differences among negotiating parties are revealed during board meeting.
|San Pablo City Council votes unanimously to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement for future projects.
|Without a vote of the board, the California High-Speed Rail Authority administratively enters into a Project Labor Agreement for all California High-Speed Rail contracts.
|Board of West Valley-Mission Community College District (in Silicon Valley) votes 5-2 to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for an upcoming “pilot project.”
|Board of San Francisco Unified School District votes 6-0 to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for Measure A (2011) projects.
|Gov. Brown signs Senate Bill 776, which restricts contractors’ ability to take prevailing wage credits for employer payments to labor compliance programs. Eligible programs for the credits must now be established under a union collective bargaining agreement.
|Without a vote of the Sacramento City Council, owners of the Sacramento Kings professional basketball team enter into a Project Labor Agreement for the city-subsidized Entertainment and Sports Center (a new arena). As of December 31, the public still did not have access to the Project Labor Agreement.
|Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson hosts a press conference to announce a Project Labor Agreement on the new Kings basketball arena. Protesters distract from event and mar it by holding an impromptu press conference immediately afterwards to condemn the backroom union deal.
|San Diego City Council votes 5-4 to impose state-mandated construction wage rates (“prevailing wage”) on city construction contracts after 33 years of setting its own policies. (Vote on first reading was on July 30.)
|Board of Sacramento City Unified School District votes unanimously to extend a dormant Project Labor Agreement through the end of 2013 to allow time to negotiate a new Project Labor Agreement for Measures Q and R.
|In the last hours of the 2013 legislative session, the legislature passes Senate Bill 743, which gives the Sacramento Kings arena special breaks for review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). With a Project Labor Agreement in place, unions allow this bill to move forward for enactment by Gov. Brown.
|In the last 90 minutes of the 2013 legislative session, Republicans in the Assembly stop the last-minute union-backed Assembly Bill 158, which would have modified Senate Bill 743 – passed hours earlier – and restored full CEQA authority over development surrounding the Sacramento Kings arena.
|Watsonville City Council votes 5-1 for policy to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for projects with estimated construction cost of $600,000 or more. (Vote on first reading was on September 24.)
|Mountain View City Council votes 6-1 to impose state prevailing wage mandates on contractors for private affordable housing projects receiving city financial assistance.
|Gov. Brown signs Senate Bill 7, which cuts off state funding for construction projects to any of the state’s 121 charter cities with city policies that deviate in any way from state prevailing wage laws.
|Gov. Brown signs Senate Bill 54, which imposes state prevailing wage law and apprenticeship laws on private contract work at refineries.
|Long Beach City Council votes 8-1 to incorporate a Project Labor Agreement into the Request for Proposals for the new Civic Center.
|Board of Alameda-Contra Costa Transit (AC Transit) votes unanimously for contractors to sign Project Labor Agreement for Bus Rapid Transit Project.
|Board of Rancho Santiago Community College District votes unanimously to continue a practice adopted in August 2013 not to discuss its Measure Q Project Labor Agreement negotiations in closed session until the college chancellor gets legal clarification from the California Attorney General.
|Board of Antioch Unified School District votes 4-1 to require contractors to sign Project Labor Agreement with unions for new high school funded by Measure B.
|Board of San Bernardino Community College District approves a plan for local hiring, local business participation, and training opportunities, without union favoritism or a government mandate for contractors to sign a union contract. Unions had actively lobbied for a Project Labor Agreement.
|In a primary special election for Mayor of the City of San Diego, former Republican Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher comes in third and fails to advance to the general special election. Fletcher changed parties and positions on issues such as Project Labor Agreements and government-mandated construction wage rates (“prevailing wages”). Political and business groups informed voters about Fletcher’s “evolution” on construction labor issues.
|Board of West Contra Costa Unified School District approves a deceptively-named report that reveals costs for construction far exceeded anticipated amounts. Contractors are required to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions to work at this district.
|Ruling in two cases that the California High-Speed Rail Authority failed to comply with state law, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge imposes significant obstacles to continuation of the union-only construction project.
|Alameda City Council votes 5-0 to direct Catellus Development Corporation to implement a Project Labor Agreement for the Alameda Point development at former Navy base.
|Staff report to Berkeley City Council shows Project Labor Agreement failed to achieve any meaningful increase in local hiring and perhaps increased costs on some city projects.
|Despite a lackluster staff report about the existing Project Labor Agreement for city projects, Berkeley City Council votes by consent (unanimously) to extend it to 2015 and consider lowering project cost threshold.
|Board of Solano Community College District votes 5-2 to require contractors to sign Project Labor Agreement with unions for certain projects funded by Measure Q, approved by voters in November 2012.
|Legislative/Human Resources Committee of East Bay Municipal Utility District votes 2-0 to recommend that contractors sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions for the Chabot Dam seismic upgrade project.
|With their terms expiring, Gov. Brown replaces the last of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s fair-minded appointments to the California Apprenticeship Council with union officials.
|Board of Southwestern Community College District (in Chula Vista) votes 7-0 to require contractors to sign Project Labor Agreement with unions for certain projects funded by Proposition R, approved by voters in November 2008.
|Construction companies and trade associations opposed to the backroom Project Labor Agreement deal on the new Kings basketball arena provide essential campaign funding for the collection of signatures on petitions to allow citizens of the City of Sacramento to vote on a charter amendment requiring voters to approve public subsidies for sports facilities.
|Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and supporters of a new Sacramento Kings arena (including union officials) announce the establishment of a political committee called The4000 to discourage voters from approving a charter amendment requiring voters to approve public subsidies for sports and entertainment facilities. “The 4000” refers largely to the construction jobs that unions will control.
|Board of Hacienda La Puente Unified School District votes to require contractors to sign Project Labor Agreement with unions to work on energy efficiency projects.
|Board of Oxnard Union High School District votes 3-2 to require contractors to sign Project Labor Agreement with unions to build a new high school funded by Measure H. The board had convened a special meeting on November 25 to push for negotiations.
|Board of Sacramento City Unified School District unanimously votes for amendments to contractor prequalification questionnaire to favor unionized contractors.
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.