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Exposing the Plot Behind Project Labor Agreement for California Bullet Train

Documents obtained on April 29, 2013 through a request under the authority of the California Public Records Act reveal behind-the-scenes maneuvering for a government mandate that construction companies sign a Project Labor Agreement with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California as a condition of building California’s High-Speed Rail.

Getting these records was not a simple task. The appointed board of directors of the California High-Speed Rail Authority never discussed or voted on this union monopoly. The Project Labor Agreement materialized out of nowhere in late December 2012 as Addendum 8 in the bid specifications for the first construction segment from Madera to Fresno.

For reasons still to be publicly revealed, obscure Fresno-based appointed boards and quasi-public groups interacted with federal and state officials to develop the Project Labor Agreement for what will be the most expensive public works project in human history. It was the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board that possessed many of the key documents. So far only one elected official has been identified as a direct player in the scheme: Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin.

Here’s what is available and known to the public as of April 30, 2013.

In November 2009, the California High-Speed Rail Authority requested “expressions of interest” from local governments for a $40 million heavy maintenance facility somewhere from Merced to Bakersfield that would employ up to 1500 workers during peak shifts. The County of Fresno, the City of Fresno, the Economic Development Corporation in Fresno County, and the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board organized a consortium called “Fresno Works” to compete for the facility against cities such as Merced, Chowchilla, and Bakersfield.

At some point this Fresno Works consortium appeared to expand its interests to include getting a requirement for high-speed rail contractors to hire people from areas of the Central Valley where unemployment is high. In September 2011, the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board recommended to the Fresno Works consortium that the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) implement a “Targeted Unemployed Worker” Program and “First Source” transparency requirement for contractors working on the California High-Speed Rail project.

The board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority discussed the proposal at its January 12, 2012 meeting. (Board member Tom Richards was also serving as chairman of the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board and removed himself from the board discussion.) It was already moot because a letter dated January 6, 2012 from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Federal Railroad Administration to the California High Speed Rail Authority indicated that the proposed workforce requirements violated rules concerning the use of federal grants for construction projects.

Nothing was mentioned about labor unions or Project Labor Agreements in this proposal. California High-Speed Rail Authority board member Bob Balgenorth, who was also head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, inquired during discussion on whether or not construction trade union officials had been consulted and noted that the proposal did not seem to recognize that union hiring halls typically dispatch workers directly to the job site and not to an employer’s office.

Work apparently resumed in Fresno to develop a targeted hiring program that would meet federal contracting standards. In a memorandum to the California High Speed Rail Authority dated March 21, 2012,  the co-chairman of the Education Committee of the Fresno Works Consortium (who was also the executive director of the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board) proposed a set of revised “Targeted Unemployed Worker” Hire Criteria and “First Source” Transparency Requirements.

Here for the first time were references to unions. It stated that hiring criteria “be reflective of union apprenticeship requirements” and that “if a project labor agreement is negotiated to cover this project, such an agreement shall include a provision requiring the parties to adhere to this Targeted Unemployed Worker Program.” Obviously, someone had proposed (or demanded) a union Project Labor Agreement.

An opportunity soon came to propose combining a targeted hiring policy (albeit without local hiring requirements) with a union Project Labor Agreement. Sometime during the following three months, word reached Fresno that the U.S. Department of Labor’s Federal Transit Administration had given approval in February 2012 to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to require contractors to sign the new Project Labor Agreement for its massive construction program. Using this approval as the basis for her argument, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin sent a letter dated June 19, 2012 to Ray LaHood, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, seeking approval for a revised hiring program for the California High-Speed Rail Authority:

…it has come to my attention that Mr. Dorvel R. Carter, Chief Counsel of the Federal Transit Administration, approved language put forward by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Administration (sic) (LACMTA) and the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council which is very similar to the Fresno Works targeted hiring program. This language focuses on establishing targeted hiring criteria in project labor agreements…we have modified our initial proposal to more closely comport with the LACMTA language that has been approved by USDOT-FTA and respectfully request that USDOT work with us to institute this revised proposed, the “National Targeted Hiring Program,” for the Initial Construction Section of the California High Speed Rail program…I look forward to discussing it with you and your team at your earliest convenience.

While mentioning some conditions and caveats, a letter from the head of the Federal Railroad Administration at “Secretary LaHood’s request” dated June 29, 2012 assured Mayor Swearengin that “we would respect the choices of CHSRA in adopting a variation of a targeted hiring program so long as the program is consistent with the California state procurement policies and procedures that CHSRA uses in the expenditure of its non-Federal funds.”

The general counsel for the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board then produced a legal analysis of a revised Fresno Works consortium proposal for a ”National Targeted Hiring Program” that would win federal approval. He noted that a similar hiring program was approved by the Federal Transit Administration as included in a Project Labor Agreement that contractors must sign to work on projects of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Representatives of the Fresno Works consortium and the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board – including Chuck Riojas, the head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local No. 100 in Fresno – then made a presentation about the new proposal at the November 14 board meeting of the California High Speed Rail Authority. No references were made to a Project Labor Agreement, and Mr. Riojas of the IBEW official even asserted that “This isn’t I’d like to stress a union or non-union document” and that apprentices from non-union programs could get on-the-job training opportunities under the proposal. (These claims turned out to be false when the final version of the proposal was adopted in the context of a Project Labor Agreement.)

At their following meeting on December 8, the California High Speed Rail Authority board approved a “Community Benefits Policy” meant to adopt guidelines for a targeted hiring program. Again, there were no references in the policy to unions or a Project Labor Agreement.

Then, in late December, the California High Speed Rail Authority issued Addendum 8 for the bid specifications for the first construction segment from Madera to Fresno. Contractors would now be required to sign a “Community Benefits Agreement.” The so-called Community Benefits Agreement turned out to be a typical Project Labor Agreement negotiated with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, with the goals of the targeted hiring program inserted in it.

Unless you were part of the inner circle working behind-the-scenes on this scheme, you would have no way of knowing that union officials were using a benevolent-sounding, locally-motivated targeted hiring program as their vehicle to gain monopoly control of construction for California High Speed Rail. References to a Project Labor Agreement only appeared in passing in internal letters and documents for obscure local appointed boards and quasi-public organizations in Fresno. The board of the California High Speed Rail Authority never discussed a Project Labor Agreement or voted on it. The public was kept uninformed, for obvious reasons.

So far the only elected official implicated in the scheme is Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who was prodded by someone to send the pivotal letter to a top Obama Administration official asking for federal approval to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for California High Speed Rail. That’s where the plot can be exposed in greater detail. Here are questions for Mayor Swearengin that need to come from Fresno citizens and all parties interested in California High Speed Rail:

1. How did you find out about the Project Labor Agreement with the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council that the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority requires contractors to sign as a condition of work?

2. Who asked you to send the letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood asking for approval for the California High-Speed Rail Authority to use a targeted hiring program in the context of a Project Labor Agreement? Who wrote the letter?

3. Which union officials contacted your office related to the targeted hiring program and the Project Labor Agreement?

4. Why did you send the letter from your office instead of more appropriately referring the subject to the California High-Speed Rail Authority?

5. Was your letter part of some sort of deal related to union lobbying for selecting Fresno as the location for the California High-Speed Rail Heavy Maintenance Facility?

6. The City of Fresno municipal code prohibits the city from requiring contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of work. Did you keep this letter from exposure to the public because you knew it asked for something contrary to the principles established in your city’s own laws?

The California High-Speed Rail Authority and its appointed board members have earned a reputation for a lack of transparency and accountability, and as long as it gets taxpayer money, it can continue this practice with impunity. But with relentless public pressure on elected officials who are supposed to be accountable to the people, the complete story of the Project Labor Agreement on the California High-Speed Rail will eventually come out, to the shame and detriment of everyone involved in the sneaky scheme.

Background and Sources:

Project Labor Agreement for California High-Speed Rail

Analysis of the Phony Community Benefits and Other Provisions in the Union Project Labor Agreement for the First Segment of California’s High-Speed Rail -www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – January 11, 2013

Community Benefits Policy for California High-Speed Rail

Project Labor Agreement for Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Construction Careers Policy for Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board (FRWIB) Board of Directors

Fresno Works Consortium

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin

Origin of Fresno Works Consortium, established to win selection of Fresno to be site of California High-Speed Rail Heavy Maintenance Facility

California High-Speed Rail Authority January 12, 2012 Board Meeting Agenda Item #3 – Presentation of Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board

Transcript of January 12, 2012 Board Meeting for California High-Speed Rail Authority

January 6, 2012 Federal Railroad Administration Letter – California High-Speed Rail – Targeted Hiring

March 21, 2012 Fresno Works Consortium Revised Targeted Hiring Program for California High-Speed Rail

June 19, 2012 Letter from Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin to Federal Railroad Administration – Inquiry on Applying Project Labor Agreement to California High-Speed Rail

June 29, 2012 Letter from Federal Railroad Administration to Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin on Targeted Hiring Program for California High-Speed Rail

August 8, 2012 Legal Analysis for Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board of California High-Speed Rail Targeted Hiring Program

Transcript of November 14, 2012 Board Meeting for California High-Speed Rail Authority – Hints of Project Labor Agreement

January 17, 2013 Letter from Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) National Office to Federal Railroad Administration on California High-Speed Rail Project Labor Agreement

March 26, 2012 Letter from Federal Railroad Administration to Associated Builders and Contractors on California High-Speed Rail Project Labor Agreement

April 11, 2013 Letter from Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board – Public Documents – Process Leading to Project Labor Agreement on California High-Speed Rail

California High-Speed Rail Authority Keeps Union Deal Out of Public Forums – my article in www.FlashReport.org – February 10, 2013

www.CaliforniaHighSpeedRailScam.com – your centralized source for key information about the debacle that is the California High-Speed Passenger Train for the 21st Century.


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.

Opponents of CEQA Reform Cite New Study with Union Connections

A broad coalition opposing any changes to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) held a press conference today (March 12, 2013) that included the findings of a newly-released study, The Economic and Environmental Impact of the California Environmental  Quality Act.

The study was written by a University of Utah professor with a long history of academic work biased toward the construction union agenda. It was funded by the union-affiliated California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperation Trust. Study results were summarized at the press conference by Bob Balgenorth, chairman of the California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust and the former head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California.

This March 11, 2013 Associated Press article Coalition Forms to Defend California Environmental Law reports on what happened:

Common Ground, the new coalition group opposing reforms, commissioned a report as part of its effort to emphasize the importance of the law.

The study by Peter Philips, a University of Utah economics professor, points to the state’s record in building alternative-energy projects and maintaining construction jobs as evidence that the law is working.

“Has CEQA actually hindered construction? Far from it,” said Bob Balgenorth, chairman of the California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust. “If anything, it’s facilitated greater construction, a cleaner environment and a better quality of life for Californians.”

Brown and the Legislature’s Democratic leaders are negotiating changes after an attempt to pass a bill failed last year.

The governor’s office had no comment on the report, but Brown has advocated for more consistent standards in reviewing development projects.

It’s unlikely that Governor Brown is ever going to comment on the report. And the business coalition in support of CEQA reform appears to be strategical avoiding any references to unions and their abuse of CEQA to obtain labor agreements and other economic concessions. So far I haven’t seen any news reports taking a critical look at this study or its origins.

So here’s the scoop about this study, courtesy of www.UnionWatch.org:

The Author of the New CEQA Study

The Economic and Environmental Impact of the California Environmental  Quality Act was written by Peter Philips, Professor of Economics at the University of Utah. Professor Philips has specialized in research on construction labor issues, with particular attention to California.

For example, in 2012 Professor Philips had his paper The Effect of Prevailing Wage Regulations on Contractor Bid Participation and Behavior: A Comparison of Palo Alto, California with Four Nearby Prevailing Wage Municipalities published in Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society. This journal is published by the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, an affiliate of the University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Program. It is hosted on the web site of the union-backed California Construction Academy, a project of the UCLA Labor Center established within the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, which (as stated earlier) is an affiliate of the University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Program. If this tangle of programs at the University of California confuses you, that’s probably the intent.

This paper is part of an ongoing lobbying campaign of the Santa Clara-San Benito Building and Construction Trades Council and a union-affiliated organization called www.SmartCitiesPrevail.org to convince the Palo Alto City Council to repeal its own policy concerning government-mandated construction wage rates (so-called prevailing wages) on purely municipal construction projects. This is a right granted under Article XI of the California Constitution to Palo Alto and 120 other California cities that operate under their own charters. For more information on this home-rule right, see Are Charter Cities Taking Advantage of State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Exemptions?

As shown in his curriculum vitae, Professor Philips was the keynote speaker at the California International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) conference in 2012. He has spoken repeatedly at conferences about Project Labor Agreements, including the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California annual conference in 2008.

While this background doesn’t necessarily mean that Professor Philips has inaccuracies in his research and reports, one should be aware that he holds certain presuppositions and biases about economics and labor relations that may be reflected in his work.

The Sponsor of the New CEQA Study

Page 2 of The Economic and Environmental Impact of the California Environmental  Quality Act indicates that “This study was sponsored by a grant from the California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust.” This mysterious group was described last year in www.UnionWatch.org (see Mysterious Union Slush Fund Spends $100,000 Against Costa Mesa Charter).

This is an arcane type of union-affiliated 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.

Here are some of the recent top recipients of funding from the California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust:

  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 – Committee for Costa Mesa’s Future – No on V, sponsored by labor and management organizations (November 6, 2012 election in City of Costa Mesa)
  6. $100,000 – Apollo Alliance
  7. $100,000 – Paxton-Patterson Construction Lab/Shop in San Joaquin County
  8. $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.

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) was 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 and A Move to Put the Union Label on Solar Power Plants – New York Times – June 18, 2009.) It is also documented in www.PhonyUnionTreeHuggers.com.

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.)

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 its expenditures?

It’s a tangled conspiracy. Especially intriguing is that one union official was 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.

 ↓

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.

 ↓

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.

 ↓

The California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust makes contributions to political campaigns and studies, including The Economic and Environmental Impact of the California Environmental Quality Act.

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. Neither solution is viable for the next four years.

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.

Unions Creep Closer to Monopolizing California High-Speed Rail Construction

UPDATE (December 7, 2012): A article today in the Fresno Bee (‘Needy’ Workers Will Get Jobs on High-Speed Rail) about the “Community Benefits” policy approved on December 6, 2012 by the California High-Speed Rail Authority contains a stunning revelation:

Five teams of contractors have been invited to bid on the first major contract for a stretch of the rail route between Madera and Fresno. How the new policy will translate into the contract has yet to be determined, said Jeffrey Morales, the authority’s CEO. Potentially complicating the issue is that each of the five would-be prime contracting teams has already signed project labor agreements with labor unions. Morales said the existence of project labor agreements between the contractors and labor unions is independent of any action the agency takes.

So all five prequalified bidders have negotiated and signed Project Labor Agreements with construction unions. How did that happen? Why? Was there some kind of deal involving the High-Speed Rail Authority? Are the five agreements all the same? What do these union agreements contain? Will the public ever get the chance to see these agreements, which give unions a monopoly on the work?

California High Speed Rail Project Labor Agreement Mandate - Section 10.1

California High Speed Rail Project Labor Agreement Mandate – Section 10.1


At its December 6, 2012 meeting, the board of directors of the California High-Speed Rail Authority unanimously approved a resolution to establish a “Community Benefits” policy for construction of California’s high-speed rail system. The High-Speed Rail Authority promptly issued a press release with quotes from local elected officials in the San Joaquin Valley who like the concept of community benefits but apparently aren’t aware of the big-city union scheme behind the plan.

While a typical reader of www.UnionWatch.org is instantly alerted by the phrase “community benefits” to the likelihood that government is executing a special deal at the expense of taxpayers, the policy sounds innocuous and benevolent to the ordinary person. Staff of the High-Speed Rail Authority claimed before the board vote that this policy will enhance employment opportunities for economically disadvantaged and low-income workers, veterans, youth, unemployed, homeless, single parents, and people with criminal records. It will “ensure that California benefits as much as possible.”

There are numerous signs that the High-Speed Rail Authority established this policy to provide a strong incentive for construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions for construction of the $68 billion-$100 billion rail system, including related structures such as stations. Staff for the High-Speed Rail Authority reported that “different stakeholders” will participate in the implementation of the policy, and no stakeholder has been more involved in perpetuating this massive, costly project than the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California.

As I reported in a January 11, 2011 article in www.TheTruthaboutPLAs.com entitled California’s Top Construction Union Officials Love the State’s $100 Billion High-Speed Rail Project, construction unions have long sought a Project Labor Agreement in order to monopolize the construction workforce on this project. With the Community Benefits policy now in place, here’s what some of the most politically-astute California construction industry officials expect to happen:

  1. The High-Speed Rail Authority will award construction contracts using a “design-build” bidding procedure. Instead of awarding contracts to design a project and then awarding contracts to the lowest responsible bidder to build it, the High-Speed Rail Authority is authorized under state law to award contracts to qualified corporate entities that combine project design and construction work. It will select the design-build entities using a somewhat subjective list of “best value” criteria that could result in design-build entities winning contracts even if they do not submit bids with the lowest price. The California Department of Finance will approve the criteria to award the design-build contracts, and the State Public Works Board will oversee the contract awards.
  2. The High-Speed Rail Authority will indicate in its construction contract specifications that bidders will be evaluated in part based on their plan to conform with the Community Benefits policy. Potential bidders will either be explicitly informed or figure out that the chances of winning a design-build contract will be greatly improved if they commit in their bids to negotiate and sign a Project Labor Agreement with construction trade unions in order to comply with the Community Benefits policy.
  3. By using this strategy to implement a Project Labor Agreement, the board of directors of the High-Speed Rail Authority and their union cronies will avoid controversial and high-profile public votes to negotiate it and approve it. California taxpayers and the U.S. Congress will remain generally unaware that unions cleverly obtained a monopoly on the construction of the rail project, because reporters will have difficulty researching and explaining this complicated procedure and because the Project Labor Agreement will not be a matter of public record. And the High-Speed Rail Authority will avoid accountability for the Project Labor Agreement; it can portray the agreement as the contractor’s own internal private and voluntary business decision.

There are recent precedents for imposing Project Labor Agreements on large government projects in California while evading public deliberations and votes. Clark Construction negotiated and signed a Project Labor Agreement for the San Diego Convention Center Expansion Phase III and negotiated and signed a Project Labor Agreement for the new Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse in Long Beach. Both the City of San Diego and the California Administrative Office of the Courts claim that these Project Labor Agreements are not a matter of public record, and Clark Construction declines to provide the union agreements to the public.

There is one weakness in the High-Speed Rail Authority’s plot to give construction unions a monopoly on the rail project with Project Labor Agreements: representatives of the beleaguered California construction organizations opposed to government-mandated Project Labor Agreements and other costly union schemes are tough, experienced, and smart. They are exposing the scheme.

Representatives of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of California, the Western Electrical Contractors Association (WECA), the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association of California (PHCC), and the Air Conditioning Trade Association (ACTA) spoke at the meeting against Project Labor Agreements for the High-Speed Rail construction. In addition, a representative of the Bakersfield-based Kern Minority Contractors Association spoke during public comment and asked that both union and non-union contractors have the opportunity to work on the high-speed rail project. (The High-Speed Rail Authority is moving forward with building the first segment of the high-speed rail line in the San Joaquin Valley, basically from Fresno to Bakersfield.)

High-Speed Rail Authority chairman Dan Richard, a former member of the board of directors of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART), concluded board discussion of the proposed Community Benefits policy by responding to public criticism of Project Labor Agreements. Chairman Richard declared that while no decision has been made about how the new “Community Benefits” policy will be implemented, he thinks Project Labor Agreements are effective in improving the efficiency of project delivery, reducing the number of conflicts, and providing a way for minority contractors to get work.

Chairman Richard also reported that he attended a December 5, 2012 meeting at which the minority community expressed very strongly that a Project Labor Agreement was the way to achieve the policy objectives. It appears that Chairman Richard was the keynote speaker at a “California High-Speed Rail Small Business Opportunity Conference” sponsored by the American Asian Architects and Engineers in San Francisco on December 5, 2012 and featuring Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland/Berkeley). Of course, it’s contractors that will employ trade workers in the San Joaquin Valley, not San Francisco architects and engineers.

Chairman Richard also took a moment during the meeting to recognize two important people watching in the audience: Bob Balgenorth, outgoing head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California and former High-Speed Rail Authority board member, and Robbie Hunter – the head of the Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council – who is the incoming head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. Were these union leaders attending the meeting to express support for employment opportunities for the homeless, or were they in the audience to see another piece fall into place for a union Project Labor Agreement on what will be far-and-away the most expensive public works “mega-project” in American history?

Kevin Dayton is the President and 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.

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.

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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.