Some Republican State Legislators in California Push the Union Agenda

Some Republican State Legislators in California Push the Union Agenda

It seems that some Republicans in competitive California state legislative districts have devised a strategy for political survival: join the Democrat leadership in supporting the union legislative agenda. And siding with the unions seems to reap campaign contributions, so why not?

Ordinary Californians aren’t yet recognizing any clearly-defined Republican alternative plan for constructively governing California under principles of fiscal responsibility, limited government, and local control. Republicans barely control one-third of the California State Senate and less than one-third of the California State Assembly. The California Republican Party continues to struggle as an organization, although leaders are trying to overhaul fundraising, grassroots activism, and candidate recruitment and training.

Perhaps this uncertain identity and operational weakness has encouraged Republican Senator Anthony Cannella to join Democrat Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg as the coauthor of union-backed Senate Bill 7, one of the most controversial bills of 2013. Representatives of cities in Cannella’s Senate district are aggressively opposing this bill, but union power at the state capitol is apparently overriding constituent objections.

Punishing Cities That Won’t Submit to Union-Controlled State Government

As reported by in With Senate Bill 7, California Unions Advance Plot to Neuter City ChartersSenate Bill 7 would withhold state funding for any of California’s 121 charter cities that exercise their right under Article XI of the state constitution to set their own government-mandated wage rate policies for purely municipal construction. This practice is extensively and comprehensively outlined in Are Charter Cities Taking Advantage of State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Exemptions?

Sponsored by the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, SB 7 undermines the principle of local control over local funds and the fundamental structure of constitutional federalism. It also punishes fiscally responsible cities that recognize how state-mandated “prevailing wages” fail to reflect actual market conditions in their communities.

Unions and construction companies bound to union agreements want all local governments in the state to submit to state-mandated prevailing wage rates, which the California Department of Industrial Relations determines under state law by adding up the employer payments indicated in the applicable collective bargaining agreements for each construction trade in each geographical region. For an unvarnished union explanation, see SB 7 Will End Loophole to Avoid Paying Prevailing Wage.

During the past six years, numerous California cities governed under home-rule charters have taken advantage of their constitutional right to establish their own policies concerning government-mandated wage rates for purely municipal construction projects or for private developments that receive municipal financial assistance of any sort. The trend for self-governance accelerated after July 2012, when the California Supreme Court rejected a union legal challenge to a prevailing wage policy in the City of Vista: see its decision in State Building and Construction Trades Council of California v. City of Vista.

Construction trade unions (and public employee unions) were compelled in 2011 and 2012 to spend a disproportionate amount of money in campaigns to defeat proposed charters in Rancho Palos Verdes, Auburn, Costa Mesa, and Grover Beach. A proposed charter in El Cajon passed in June 2012, but a similar proposed charter in Escondido was narrowly defeated by the flood of infrequent left-leaning voters motivated to vote in the November 2012 elections.

Home rule through charters is one of the few remaining ways in California in which advocates of fiscal responsibility and limited government can buck the intrusive and costly policies of union-dominated state government. For a Republican to be a coauthor of Senate Bill 7 and declare that an article of the state constitution is a “loophole” that needs to be closed is a discouraging development for supporters of economic freedom.

But it’s apparently fruitful for Senator Cannella, who has received 43% of his campaign contributions in the first six months of 2013 from unions and construction trade associations that negotiate and administer collective bargaining agreements. (All of the other 57% comes from big corporate interests – this is not a “Tea Party candidate.”)

Joining Cannella as a mere vote in support of Senate Bill 7 is Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, who represents a somewhat competitive district in Ventura and Los Angeles counties. His support for unions is also consistent – in 2012, Gorell sent a letter to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors urging them to require construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of working on the new Ventura County Medical Center. (The county didn’t mandate the union agreement in the end.)

Of course, a Republican is a wonderful gift for unions and their political allies. As reported by in After 33 Years, San Diego Submits to State Prevailing Wage Law, the San Diego City Council voted 5-4 on a party-line vote on July 30 for Mayor Bob Filner’s costly, burdensome proposal to repeal its own government-mandated wage rate policy on city construction contracts. Union officials and other advocates of government-mandated wage rates claimed that Cannella’s coauthorship of Senate Bill 7 made the issue  “bipartisan,” and therefore the four Republicans who wanted to save money for taxpayers were extremists.

Giving Unions Control of Labor Compliance Investigations for Public Works Contracts

If Senate Bill 7 wasn’t enough, Assemblyman Gorell and Senator Cannella also voted for Senate Bill 776, another bill sponsored by the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. This bill prohibits contractors from taking credit against the state “prevailing wage” rate for payments to labor compliance programs that are not affiliated with a labor union.

Union leaders and lobbyists are pushing SB 776 because they want to shut down a specific independent labor compliance program called California Construction Compliance Group, which is an exception to the virtual monopoly of union-affiliated organizations performing California labor compliance investigations. This program reports completion of 231 audits on public works projects and recovery of over $400,000 for 134 workers.

It angered unions when it reported violations to the California Division of Labor Standards and Enforcement committed by contractors that signed Project Labor Agreements with unions at the Los Angeles Unified School District, the City of Milpitas, and Contra Costa County. On both the state and local level, unions promote Project Labor Agreements by claiming they eliminate the need to monitor contractor labor law compliance.

The union response to this embarrassing revelation: enact a law to shut it down! Read the perspective of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California here: How’s This for a Racket?

Obviously, at the end of 2013 someone needs to create a voting record (with percentages and ranking) of how Republicans voted on labor issues in the California State Legislature. Then there will be some accountability to the voters.

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 Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.

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