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



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

Milpitas Unified School District



Board approves PLA 12/11/12.

Bond Measures Approved by Voters in November 2012


San Diego Unified School District



PLA approved in 2009 extends to this bond measure.

Coast Community College District



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

Oakland Unified School District



PLA approved in 2004 extends to this bond measure.

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District



Board discusses PLA 11/20/14.

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

West Contra Costa Unified School District



PLA approved in 2000 extends to all bond measures.

Cerritos Community College District



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

Solano Community College District



Board approves PLA 12/4/13.

Sacramento City Unified School District



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

Rancho Santiago Community College District



Board approves PLA 3/24/14.

Alum Rock Union Elementary School District



Board approves PLA 6/18/13.

East Side Union High School District



Revised PLA approved in 2009 extends to this bond measure.

Lynwood Unified School District



Board approves PLA 2/12/13.

Inglewood Unified School District



Board approves PLA 10/26/12.

Chula Vista Elementary School District SFID No. 1



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

Oxnard School District



Board approves PLA 6/24/15.

Sacramento City Unified School District



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

Antioch Unified School District SFID No. 1



Board approves PLA 11/13/13.

Whittier City Unified School District



Board approves PLA 1/13/15.

Washington Unified School District



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



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

Contra Costa Community College District



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

Culver City Unified School District



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

Bond Measures Approved by Voters in November 2014


Santa Clara Unified School District



Board discusses PLA 3/26/15.

PLA discussion scheduled for 8/13/15.

Sonoma County Community College District



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



Board discusses PLA 7/8/15.

Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District



Board discusses PLA 3/25/15.

San Luis Obispo County Community College District (Cuesta)



Board discusses PLA 2/4/15.

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

Hayward Unified School District



Board votes for PLA 6/24/15.

Vacaville Unified School District



Board discusses PLA 3/9/15.

Board votes for PLA negotiations 6/25/15.

Alameda Unified School District



PLA discussion scheduled for 8/11/15.

Santa Rosa High School District



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

Salinas Union High School District



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

Board votes for PLA negotiations 5/26/15.

East Side Union High School District



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

Azusa Unified School District



Board discusses PLA 3/17/15.

Pittsburg Unified School District



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

Berryessa Union School District



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

Santa Rosa Elementary School District



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

Washington Unified School District



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

Bassett Unified School District



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 Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.

Unions Increase Control of California’s Community College Boards

On October 10, 2012, leaders of the Contra Costa County Building and Construction Trades Council finally succeeded in getting the Contra Costa Community College District Governing Board to implement a Project Labor Agreement acceptable to union leaders for future district construction. The vote was 3-1.

This is perhaps the longest crusade ever in California for unions to win a government-mandated Project Labor Agreement on public works construction. Union officials began targeting the district a dozen years ago, before voters authorized the sale of $120 million in bonds through the first Measure A in the March 2002 election. In anticipation of winning control of future construction at this district, the head of the Contra Costa County Building and Construction Trades Council got himself appointed to a vacant seat on the governing board in November 1999. Voters complicated his plan by soundly defeating him when he ran for election for a full term in November 2000, and unions then lacked a board majority to impose a Project Labor Agreement.

Voters narrowly authorized the sale of another $286.5 million in bonds by appoving a second Measure A in June 2006, and by September 2006, union lobbyists were demanding that the governing board require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement to work at the district. The board voted at its October 25, 2006 meeting to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement with the unions. Two years later, at its August 27, 2008 meeting, the governing board discussed its difficulties reaching an agreement suitable to both sides. At the July 27, 2011 meeting, the Contra Costa County Building and Construction Trades Council put on the pressure by presenting a draft Project Labor Agreement to the governing board, while the district staff presented a timeline of their efforts to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement with the unions. At their October 12, 2011 meeting, the governing board amended and approved a resolution directing the college chancellor to negotiate some modifications and place a Project Labor Agreement on the November 9, 2011 meeting agenda. At that meeting, the board received advice from its legal counsel and directed some more changes to be made. Finally, the community college district nailed down a Project Labor Agreement and approved it on a 3-1 vote on December 14, 2011, as governing board member Tomi Van de Brooke ramped up her campaign for Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. (She lost the race in June 2012 despite campaign support from construction trade unions.) But as bid dates for projects funded by Measure A approached during the summer of 2012, union officials wouldn’t sign the agreement; they still weren’t satisfied with the terms and conditions. Thus, the board had to approve a new, revised agreement on October 10, 2012.

Why were the votes 3-1 instead of 4-1? As an interesting side note, in March 2011, the governing board appointed the recording secretary of the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union No. 159 to the governing board. He was also a paid part-time instructor in the local plumbers’ union apprenticeship program. As the vote approached for the Project Labor Agreement, a complaint was filed with the California Fair Political Practices Commission – with ample documentation – noting that this board member had failed to file his statement of financial interests within 30 days of his appointment, and when the public requested it, he filed a statement that did not disclose income from the plumbers’ union as reported on the union’s LM-2 form. According to a January 10, 2012 press release from the Northern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, “Only the intervention of the public in exposing Robert Calone’s failure to submit a Form 700 and his failure to report his employment income prevented him from voting on a contract for which his loyalties and allegiance were divided and influenced by his paid employment as an instructor for an organization that was signatory to the contract.” (See the following documents: Complaint to FPPC with Exhibits and Response from FPPC – A Warning Letter.)

So this is how one community college district’s governing board operates.

With the fall of this district to the unions, almost every community college district in the San Francisco Bay Area now requires construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions in order to work on a taxpayer-funded project in those districts. Below is a status report:

Community College District (CCD) Year as PLA Target Year of PLA Enacted
Peralta CCD (Alameda County) 2004 2004, 2009
Chabot-Las Positas CCD (Alameda County) 2003 2006, 2010
Ohlone CCD (Alameda County) 2002 Not Yet
Contra Costa CCD (Costa Costa County) 2000 2012
College of Marin (Marin County) 2005 2008
Hartnell CCD (Monterey County) 2004 2004; rescinded 2004
Monterey Peninsula College Not Yet Not Yet
Napa Valley College (Napa County) 2004 Not Yet
City College of San Francisco (San Francisco) 2002 2005
San Mateo CCD (San Mateo County) 2002 2002, 2007
Cabrillo College (Santa Cruz, San Benito, Monterey Counties) 2004 Not Yet
Foothill-DeAnza CCD (Santa Clara County) 2007 2008, 2011
San Jose-Evergreen CCD (Santa Clara County) 2006 2011
West Valley-Mission CCD (Santa Clara County) 2005, 2008 Not Yet
Solano CCD (Solano County) 2003 2004
Santa Rosa Junior College (Sonoma County) 2002, 2005 Not Yet

Note that governing boards of a few community college districts in Southern California (the Los Angeles Community College District, the Riverside Community College District, and the Rancho Santiago Community College District in Orange County) have also required their construction contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions. The elected board of the Southwestern Community College District in Chula Vista voted earlier this year to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement with unions.

Why are community college districts such ripe targets for union control of taxpayer funded construction? Here are my theories:

  1. Most California voters aren’t even aware that community colleges have elected board members. There’s an obscure political vacuum to be filled by opportunistic unions and other special interests of the Left.
  2. Public accountability for board members is almost non-existent. News coverage is weak. Taxpayers are clueless, and students are too busy to focus on the elected leadership of their institution.
  3. Serving on a community college board attracts relatively erudite, ideological people who believe government and education can be useful and appropriate agents to change the world.
  4. For an ambitious politician dreaming of running for a solidly Democrat-controlled state legislative seat when the current occupant is termed out, it’s useful to show evidence of experience in education. Ambitious politicians, of course, also have to be active in enacting policies desired by the various interest groups that provide financial and organizational support in primary campaigns, including construction trade unions.
  5. People attracted to the community college board often respond to policy proposals based on emotion, feelings, and idealism – and not so much on financial analysis.
  6. The main campaign donors to community college board candidates are parties with financial interests in the district; that is, faculty unions and other unions. It’s difficult to find campaign funding for candidates who advocate fiscal responsibility.
  7. There are a lot of cultural disincentives for an advocate of minimalist government and fiscal responsibility to run for a community college board. These college districts are very political, and the political culture is very “progressive.” Boards like to pass resolutions about foreign affairs, global issues, and leftist bugaboos.

I have not heard about any plans for anyone to establish a program to recruit, train, and elect free market-oriented candidates to community college governing boards in California. Until there is an organized movement to make the government of California community college districts more fiscally responsible, college governing boards remain a welcoming place for believers in activist government to start their long and fruitful political careers in California.

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