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Unions Try to Monopolize California's Global Warming Solutions

California’s quest to end global climate change is inspiring many obscure, complicated, and costly regulations. And when state executive branch agencies propose new regulations to save the planet, unions are there with their own agendas.

California Can’t Let Just Anyone Check Your Dimmer Switches

The 2013 revisions to California’s Building Energy Efficiency Standards (in the California Building Standards Code, California Code of Regulations, Title 24) include new requirements for commercial buildings to reduce electricity use through lighting controls. Examples of such controls include dimmers, automatic daylight controls, occupant sensing controls, and timers.

How does the state ensure compliance with these standards? After an electrical contractor installs these lighting control systems, a professional, certified field technician must test them and produce documentation confirming that the systems work and conform with the Building Energy Efficiency Standards.

These field technicians must be trained and certified through “Lighting Controls Acceptance Test Technician Certification Providers.” Programs interested in becoming providers submit applications to the California Energy Commission to show they fulfill the requirements to be a legitimate source of technician training and certification.

Dimmer Switches Were Supposed to Brighten the Future for Unions

Government-regulated certification can benefit the public, but it is also vulnerable to political manipulation by interest groups who see it as a mechanism to control who and how many people are employed in an occupation. For example, construction trade unions have long used the California Apprenticeship Council and other executive branch agencies to resist potential training competition from Merit Shop associations, individual contractors, and even from other unions trying to expand their trade jurisdiction.

At the California Energy Commission, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union has openly declared for years that its California Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program (CALCTP) should have a monopoly on training and certifying workers who test lighting controls for commercial buildings. As far back as November 3, 2011, the State Association of Electrical Workers/International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers submitted a letter to the California Energy Commission insisting on this monopoly:

On behalf of the State Association of Electrical Workers/International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, I write to urge the commission to require all advanced lighting controls related acceptance testing and documentation to be performed by California certified general electricians who are also certified by the California Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program (CALCTP), and who are performing the work while employed by a California contractor who holds a CALCTP contractor certification, and that these acceptance testing and documentation forms be modified by providing a space for the electrician and the contractor to each write his/her name, and to each attach a copy of their appropriate CALCTP certification documentation.

Providing studies and comments as academic cover for the CALCTP quest for a monopoly on lighting controls testing certification is the Donald Vial Center on Employment in the Green Economy, a project of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, affiliated with the University of California Center for Labor Research and Education, and part of the University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Program. This state university labor institute is a descendent of a “union think tank” established in 2000 by the California legislature and Governor Gray Davis at the behest of the California Labor Federation.

Headquarters of the National Lighting Contractors Association of America is in Signal Hill, California.

Headquarters of the National Lighting Contractors Association of America is in Signal Hill, California.

Now the IBEW has competition. A Merit Shop organization not affiliated with a union called the National Lighting Contractors Association of America (NLCAA) submitted an application to the California Energy Commission to become a Lighting Controls Acceptance Test Technician Certification Provider.

Even more shocking for the unions, the California Energy Commission placed approval of the NLCAA program on its July 22, 2014 meeting agenda – with a memorandum from the Executive Director recommending approval – while the IBEW program was still tangled up in the application process.

This echoed the outcome of previous efforts of union officials to push for regulations meant to give them control of the workforce. For example, the IBEW began a multi-year push in 1999 to impose electrician certification in California that would allow them to gain control of the trade, but it found itself outsmarted and outmaneuvered by the more nimble, more innovative Merit Shop. And while the IBEW and other unions argued for years over jurisdiction for apprenticeship training in solar photovoltaic system installation, a Merit Shop contractor circumvented the system and simply applied for and won approval from the state to operate its own solar photovoltaic installation apprenticeship program.

There Ought to Be Lawyers. Quick, Send in the Lawyers

Now the Merit Shop was outwitting the unions again. The IBEW had to suppress the competition, quickly and decisively. They turned to the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo – the law firm of choice nowadays for construction unions that use the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to delay projects as a way to pressure the owner to sign a Project Labor Agreement or agree to other economic concessions that benefit the unions.

To stop approval of the NLCAA program, the IBEW and its lawyers simply adopted the same basic strategies they use to delay projects through CEQA. They exploited the statutory provisions for public review and comment by claiming insufficient time for review. Then they submitted an extensive set of objections right at the deadline so that the agency didn’t have enough time to review them. And just like what they do with environmental review documents, they nitpicked the NLCAA application to identify and cite every possible weakness that a judge might recognize as a meritorious basis for a time-consuming, expensive lawsuit.

The saga began on July 11, 2014, when the California Energy Commission publicly posted its agenda for its July 22 meeting. It included this seemingly routine item:

11. APPROVAL OF NATIONAL LIGHTING CONTRACTORS ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA TO BECOME AN ACCEPTANCE TEST TECHNICIAN CERTIFICATION PROVIDER. Possible approval of the National Lighting Contractors Association of America (NLCAA) as a Lighting Acceptance Test Technician Certification Provider (ATTCP). This will allow NLCAA to train and certify field technicians and employers on the Building Energy Efficiency Standards lighting control acceptance tests.

On July 17, an official with the California Energy Commission contacted the Vice President of Training for the National Lighting Contractors Association of America with some bad news:

To follow up on our conversation the Standards Section 10-103-A(f)2 requires the Commission to give all interested persons a copy of the evaluation report used in your application to become a ATTCP.  This Section also requires the Commission to give these interested persons reasonable time to review the evaluation.

The Business Meeting Agenda was posted on Friday July 11th in the late afternoon.  The Commission received notice Friday evening from a interested person that they wanted a copy of the evaluation report.

After lengthy discussions with management, legal, and our commissioners it was determined that a reasonable amount of time could not be given to the interested persons before the July 22 Business Meeting.

For this reason your item is being taken off the July 22 Business Meeting to afford adequate time for the interested party to review NLCAA’s evaluation report.

I am sorry for any inconvenience that has caused you, your business and contractors anticipating NLCAA’s approval.

A training executive with Associated Builders and Contractors sent an email to the California Energy Commission expressing concern about this mysterious development:

NLCAA has followed and met all of the application requirements and been approved to go forward to the final requirement of the application process.  Any delays in their approval will result in major negative financial impacts on our over 100 electrical contractor members, their employees and numerous other nonunion electrical contractors who need to have this certification in order to complete their current and future construction projects and meet the new state Lighting Certification requirements.

If the NLCAA’s application is removed from the Commission’s agenda, what is to stop another “interested party” from making another request to review NLCAA’s application the next time it is on the agenda, which would cause it to be removed and what would prevent this cycle from starting all over again and again and again.  Anyone can review the NLCAA’s application, but these third party reviews are not an official part of the application process and should have no impact on Commission’s approval process.

As the attached documents show, Director’s Ashuckian, Oglesby and others, after a very in depth and detailed review by their respective staffs, have previously endorsed the NLCAA as meeting the state’s requirements for an ATTCP and that their application should be accepted.

It took a week for the NLCAA to be informed by the California Energy Commission of what party derailed its scheduled approval by taking advantage of regulatory provisions regarding public review. Of course, the inquiry was from the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo, which represents the California Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program (CALCTP) affiliated with the IBEW union. CALCTP scrambled to get its application posted by the California Energy Commission for public review, which happened on August 1, 2014. This began three months of antics as CALCTP lawyers and lobbyists tried to get the California Energy Commission to approve its program while rejecting the NLCAA program.

On August 19, 2014, the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo provided the California Energy Commission with several pages of petty objections to the approval of the NLCAA competing program. Obviously the IBEW was setting the stage for a lawsuit against the California Energy Commission if it approved the NLCAA program. Meanwhile, the NLCAA identified numerous petty deficiencies in the CALCTP application but chose not to stoop to the tactics of its competition by commenting on them.

Items to approve of both programs were placed on the August 27, 2014 meeting agenda of the California Energy Commission but then removed on August 26. They were not even addressed on the September 10 agenda. Then both items were placed on the October 7 agenda.

Late on the afternoon of October 6, the IBEW/NECA California State Labor Management Cooperation Committee emailed ten pages of objections to approval of the NLCAA program. In response, California Energy Commission staff advised the commissioners at the October 7 meeting to delay considering approval of the NLCAA program so they could analyze the last-minute submission of union objections to the Merit Shop program.

Commissioners chose to table approval of the NLCAA program, but to their credit they also tabled approval of the CALCTP program. Public testimony at the meeting from professional lobbyists and union officials revealed the true nature of the dispute: the IBEW believes it should control who and how many people become certified as lighting control field technicians.

Public Implications of This Obscure Battle Over the Authority to Certify Lighting Controls Testers

An ordinary California resident might ask how the people of California benefit from this union-provoked controversy about who gets to train and certify workers who test lighting control systems. Unless the programs are deficient under the state’s regulations, what is the public interest in delaying approval? Workers want to be trained, commercial building owners need to comply with the law, and climate change activists seek to reduce electricity use.

What is particularly confounding is how the state’s public utilities are connected to all of this. The CALCTP is operated by the California State Labor Management Cooperation Committee for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractors Association (LMCC/IBEW-NECA), but various entities are alleged to work in “collaboration” with it. These collaborators include Southern California Edison (SCE), Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP).

In effect, California public utilities are working with the IBEW to cut competition, restrict choice in training, and make testing of lighting controls for commercial building developers more difficult and more expensive.

Sources

The Exploited Regulation: 2013 California Building Energy Efficiency Standards 10-103-A – NONRESIDENTIAL LIGHTING CONTROLS ACCEPTANCE TEST TRAINING AND CERTIFICATION

2013 California Building Energy Efficiency Standards

California Building Standards Code – California Code of Regulations, Title 24

National Lighting Contractors Association of America (NLCAA)

California Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program (CALCTP)

Public Utilities in “Collaboration” with CALCTP

California Energy Commission Staff Evaluation Reports on Applications for Lighting Controls Acceptance Test Technician Certification Providers, and Public Comments on the Applications

November 3, 2011 Letter from State Association of Electrical Workers/International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Seeking a Monopoly on Lighting Controls Test Technician Certification

Donald Vial Center on Employment in the Green Economy – Union-Oriented Studies and Comments on Certification of Acceptance Testing Field Technicians for Lighting Controls 


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.

 

Ushering in 2014 with Laws that Government Unions and Greens Adore

California’s legislature passed, as usual, hundreds of laws that took effect on January 1st, but two of them are prime examples of how the Golden State has turned its governance over to an alliance of public sector unions, environmentalist extremists, and wealthy elites. Nowhere within this privileged clique is there any recognition of how difficult they are making everyday life for ordinary people.

Do you want to remodel your kitchen? Starting in 2014, you will have to install energy efficient “luminaires” (that’s bureaucrat-speak for “light”) that will not pass inspection unless they’re in hardwired sockets. Normal “screw base luminaires” do not qualify as “high efficiency.”  Courtesy of the California Energy Commission, here is “Chapter Six – Residential Lighting.” If you want to know how to install lighting in your new or remodeled kitchen, you’ll need to wade through 58 pages of specifications.

It gets worse.

Do you want to do anything to your home that involves getting a building permit? Remember that in most California counties, by law, you are required to have a building permit to install any major appliance including a water heater, a cooktop, an oven, etc., also any permanent light fixtures, or a deck, a spa, a driveway gate; to put it mildly, the list is inclusive. “Building permit” has taken on a rather expansive scope, and if you don’t get one, you are a criminal. And starting in 2014, if you submit a building permit application to install a gas cook top, or a window, or a water heater, you will also have to install “low flow” toilets, faucets and shower heads throughout your entire home. Stealthily passed back in 2009, SB 407 is finally here. And don’t expect to easily replace that “water efficient shower head” after the inspector leaves, because as noted on this KCRA report, the flow restriction valves must be installed inside your walls.

Laws this draconian might be justifiable if energy pollution and water scarcity were genuine problems that couldn’t be addressed in a more balanced manner. But California is floating on top of recoverable shale gas. There’s more energy here than in the famed Bakken formation that has ignited the economy in the Dakotas and is powering America. In a stunning turnaround, new recovery technologies mean that the North American continent has the potential to be completely energy self-sufficient. Even the originally established “greenhouse gas” targets have already been easily achieved, as Americans have switched from coal to natural gas.

As for water, it’s tough to argue with conservation measures when the state faces another severe drought. But as this table from the California Water Commission’s draft “2013 Water Plan, Chapter 3” proves, residential water use has remained flat for the past ten years, even as population has increased from 34 million to 38 million during the decade ended 2010.

More revealing, however, is the fact that urban water consumption – reference the “Depleted Water Use” table on the lower half of the chart below, which refers to water consumed that is not recycled – only represents 8.9% of water diversions in California. And courtesy of this Sierra Club chart “California water by the numbers,” only 62% of “urban” water use is residential (indoor and outdoor); the rest is commercial and industrial. And “indoor” water use is only 37% of “urban” water use. So these “low flow” mandates are going to marginally lower consumption of what is only 3.2% of water diversions in California. And just to complete the thought: Actual precipitation in a normal year in California is roughly 200 million acre feet – the “applied water use” referenced on this chart is only about 40% of California’s total precipitation – the rest evaporates, percolates, or flows into the ocean without diversion.

Put another way, in California, cutting indoor residential water use by 50% is the equivalent of rainfall in a given year decreasing by 1%. That’s how much good it’s going to do.

20140107-CA-water-useInstead of marginally reducing total energy and water consumption through expensive and inconvenient mandates, what California’s policymakers ought to be doing is enacting policies designed to lower the cost of living. They could do this by permitting slant drilling to offshore reserves of oil and natural gas, extraction of onshore shale gas, construction of a LNG terminal to export natural gas, construction of natural gas and nuclear power plants, and construction of massive desalination facilities on the Southern California coast. The energy required to desalinate seawater is actually less than the energy required to pump the same quantity of water over the Tehachapi mountains and into the Los Angeles basin. These are worthy topics for further study, because they would benefit ordinary Californians.

California’s elites, however, do not care about ordinary people. They hide behind extreme environmentalist scare scenarios – hatched by organizations whose directorships are opportunistically populated by trial lawyers and crony “green” capitalists. And, of course, thousands of public sector union jobs are created, as code enforcement officers fan out into the urban hinterland to enter our homes, peering behind our walls and into our ceilings, checking our pipes and wires, ferreting out the errant rebels.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Public Policy Center

Did Unions Hasten Demise of California’s Solar Thermal Power Plants?

Below is the first organized compilation of documents showing what appears to be an aggressive, deliberate union campaign to impede government approval of solar thermal power projects in California. (Organized documentation of extensive union interference with government approval of more traditional solar photovoltaic power projects in California will be released soon.)

These innovative proposed solar thermal projects were once celebrated as the future of electricity generation. In August 2007, BrightSource Energy submitted the first application for a solar thermal power plant – the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. At that time, the California Energy Commission was expecting dozens of applications for such power plants that could produce a total of as much as 24,000 megawatts of electricity. Visionaries saw California as the future “Saudi Arabia of solar.” (See Green Energy: Solar’s Big Boom – San Jose Mercury-News – September 26, 2007.) The Energy Commission subsequently received applications for 16 thermal solar power plants, listed below.

As of July 16, 2013, only one solar thermal project (Ivanpah) is nearing completion in its basic original form. Some projects have been cancelled; other projects have been postponed repeatedly, downgraded in size, or changed in concept from thermal to photovoltaic. Some companies proposing these projects have gone bankrupt and ownership has changed on some projects. An April 24, 2013 article in National Journal declared that California’s Dream to Be the Saudi Arabia of Solar Is Dead. It’s noteworthy that the California Energy Commission listing of “Large Solar Energy Projects” hasn’t been updated since September 14, 2012.

What role did unions have in this? Here’s a bit of background to put the compilation below in context.

Local Governments Approve Photovoltaic Solar Projects; The California Energy Commission Approves Thermal Solar Projects

Most of the solar projects proposed or under construction or now operating in California are “photovoltaic” or PV. A current is generated when sunlight hits panels. Many of these solar farms will generate less than 50 megawatts of electricity, although a 66 megawatt facility just opened near Lancaster and much larger ones are under construction.

Companies that want to build PV solar farms seek permits from local governments with jurisdiction over the land. Many of these projects are considered by planning commissions of counties with land in the San Joaquin Valley (Fresno, Kings, Tulare, Kern, San Luis Obispo) and in desert regions (Kern, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego, Imperial). Appeals go to the county board of supervisors.

In contrast, the “siting” of solar thermal power plants must be approved by the five-member California Energy Commission, because this state agency has jurisdiction over power plants that generate 50 megawatts or more of electricity and also use heat to produce electricity. With solar thermal power plants, mirrors concentrate sunlight on a vessel to heat a liquid inside, which creates steam, which turns a turbine to produce electricity.

A Tactic to Delay Approval and Escalate Costs for Energy Companies Seeking Permits

Before the California Energy Commission approves a project, it subjects the proposal to a rigorous environmental review process. This includes three phases: (1) data collection, (2) discovery and analysis that results in a preliminary staff assessment and final staff assessment, and (3) an evidentiary hearing and decision that results in a Presiding Member’s Proposed Decision and then final approval of a license for the project.

Any member of the public can submit written comments to the California Energy Commission during the permitting or licensing process for large power plants. But California law also allows a member of the public to apply to the California Energy Commission to become an “intervenor” and play an active, integral role in the permitting process for an individual power plant. An intervenor not only participates as an interested party, but can also provide testimony and witnesses and cross-examine other parties’ witnesses, most importantly during the pivotal “evidentiary hearing.” Information provided or obtained by the intervenor becomes part of the basis for the California Energy Commission’s final decision.

Typically lasting a year or longer, the review process is supposed to be open and transparent to the public. In order to preserve the integrity and the impartiality of the Energy Commission’s licensing process, California law prohibits any private “ex parte” communication between the power plant applicant, the Energy Commission staff, and outside intervenors. No party can communicate with decision-makers except in a public hearing or public record. No behind-doors deals or discussions are allowed.

Nevertheless, some informed observers believe the process is being abused. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, an organization called California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) was using the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo to intervene in the licensing process for natural gas-fired power plants. CURE seemed to be hindering approval of these projects until unions obtained a commitment for construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement as a condition of working on the project. This practice of “greenmail” was summarized in a September 6, 2004 Los Angeles Times article Struggle Over Power Plants and a September 19, 2004 Sacramento Bee article Pressure by Labor Group Alleged. The Wall Street Journal published a February 15, 2001 editorial condemning it: Power Grab.

Outside Parties Impede Approval of Thermal Solar Plants – Unions Are Prominent

As energy companies began the process of winning state approval for their proposed projects, California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) intervened in almost every case through the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo. As seen below, CURE routinely filed requests for applicants to collect large amounts of data. It objected to analysis, review, and procedures. It even filed two lawsuits to stop construction of two proposed solar thermal power plants.

It was noteworthy that CURE seemed to resolve its aggressive environmental concerns about a project when unions obtained a commitment from the energy company for contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of working on the project. This practice was reported in a June 18, 2009 New York Times article A Move to Put the Union Label on Solar Power Plants and in a February 5, 2011 Los Angeles Times article Labor Coalition’s Tactics on Renewable Energy Projects Are Criticized.

Below is a chart showing the involvement of California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) in the California Energy Commission licensing process for proposed large solar thermal power plant projects. In some cases, there is an uncanny relationship between the end of CURE involvement and a Project Labor Agreement or some sort of union deal. Notice that a Project Labor Agreement was announced in 2009 for the Ivanpah power plant.

California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) Involvement in the Sixteen Applications to the California Energy Commission for Approval of a Solar Thermal Power Plant

1. Ivanpah Solar – Solar Partners/Brightsource, in San Bernardino County (370 MW)

2. Blythe Solar Power Project – NextEra Blythe Energy Center LLC, in Riverside County (1,000 MW)

3. Victorville 2 Hybrid Power Project – City of Victorville, in City of Victorville in San Bernardino County (513 MW natural gas, 50 MW solar)

4. Beacon Solar Energy Project – Beacon Solar LLC, in Kern County (250 MW)

5. Abengoa Mojave Solar Project – Abengoa Solar Inc., in San Bernardino County (250 MW)

6. Imperial Valley Solar Project (Formerly SES Solar Two Project) – Imperial Valley Solar LLC, in Imperial County (709 MW)

7. Genesis Solar – Genesis Solar LLC / NextEra™ Energy Resources LLC, in Riverside County (250 MW)

8. Rice Solar Energy Project – Rice Solar LLC / SolarReserve LLC, in Riverside County (150 MW)

9. City of Palmdale Hybrid Gas-Solar – City of Palmdale, in City of Palmdale in Los Angeles County (520 MW natural gas, 50 MW solar)

10. Palen Solar Power Project – BrightSource Energy / Abengoa SA (former applicant Nalep Solar Project I, LLC), in Riverside County (500 MW)

11. Carrizo Energy Solar Farm – Carrizo Energy LLC, in San Luis Obispo County

12. San Joaquin Solar 1 & 2 – San Joaquin Solar LLC, in Fresno County

13. Ridgecrest Solar Power Project – Solar Millennium, in Kern County (250 MW)

14. Hidden Hills Solar Electric Generating System – BrightSource Energy Inc., in Inyo County (500 MW)

15. Rio Mesa Solar Electric Generating Facility – BrightSource Energy Inc., in Riverside County (750 MW)

  • California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) did not intervene. Representatives of Laborers Local Union No. 1184 expressed support for the project and looked forward to jobs.

16. Calico Solar Project (Formerly SES Solar One Project) – Calico Solar LLC/Tessera Solar (formerly Stirling Energy Systems), in San Bernardino County (663.5 MW)


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.

CEQA Debate Rule No. 1: Do NOT Mention Union “Greenmail”

“Here’s the plan: pretend that unions aren’t exploiting the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as a tool to obtain labor agreements. Maybe no one will notice.”

Supporters and opponents of CEQA reform are straining to avoid this uncomfortable subject as influential Democrats in the California State Senate prepare to introduce an alleged reform of CEQA that would discourage abuses of the law.


Note: the second half of this article includes excerpts from my February 18, 2013 article on www.FlashReport.org entitled Highlighting the Top Union Abuses of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Thank you to www.FlashReport.org and www.UnionWatch.org for exposing generally unreported labor public policy issues to a wider audience in California and the United States.


This moratorium on referring to union “greenmail” reached absurd levels this week, as a noted journalist in San Diego who is left-leaning but generally recognized as honestly blunt neglected to report the obvious about union CEQA abuse.

An article entitled San Diego Hotels: Labor in Revolt was posted on February 20, 2013 in the “alternative” weekly newspaper San Diego Reader. It sympathetically portrayed the quest of organizers in the San Diego-based UNITE-HERE Local Union No. 30 to unionize the city’s hotel workforce.

Readers learn about various adversarial tactics used by UNITE-HERE Local Union No. 30 to pressure hotel operators to sign union agreements. The article mentions picket lines, boycotts, telling the hotel’s customers not to return, convincing elite universities to stop investing their endowment funds in hotel corporations, using labor laws offensively against employers, and encouraging workers to express themselves in public with chants, drum-beating, and labor songs.

All of these tactics reflect a typical union “corporate campaign.” But after reading the article, I went back and read it again. I couldn’t believe what I was – NOT – reading.

It mentions nothing about the high-profile CEQA actions filed by UNITE-HERE Local Union No. 30 against four proposed hotel projects! Here they are, as reported in www.PhonyUnionTreeHuggers.com:

1. Lane Field in San Diego: UNITE-HERE Local 30 Doesn’t Like a Proposed Hotel

2. San Diego Hotel Union (UNITE-HERE Local 30) Finds Environmental Calamity with San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina Ballroom Expansion

3. San Diego Convention Center Expansion: Construction Unions and Hotel Unions File 63 Pages Worth of CEQA Complaints

4. Hotel Union Uses CEQA Objections to Try to Block Proposed Fat City Hotel in San Diego

Four cases of CEQA abuse in the context of organizing campaigns! Overlooked and unreported…

An article exposing this practice could attract web readers, sell newspapers, and enhance the professional reputation of the journalist who wrote it. A news vacuum is waiting to be filled.

Soon an enterprising California reporter (or national reporter) will draw attention to labor union CEQA exploitation with an investigative article. In recent years, the New York Times did this with a June 18, 2009 article A Move to Put the Union Label on Solar Power Plants; also, the Los Angeles Times did this with a February 5, 2011 article Labor Coalition’s Tactics on Renewable Energy Projects Are Criticized.

I anticipate this future investigative article will flush out the union greenmail by either providing a broad survey of 20 years of union CEQA abuse or by focusing in-depth on one of the dozens of recent union CEQA document dumps and lawsuits against proposed projects.

Here are the top examples of union “greenmail” in 2012 and in 2013 that are ripe for investigation and exposure.

The #1 Union “Greenmail” CEQA Exploitation Case of 2012: San Diego Convention Center Expansion, Phase 3

The most high-profile union-instigated CEQA action in California in 2012 was targeted at the proposed San Diego Convention Center Expansion, Phase 3, estimated to cost $520 million, or more than $1 billion total if interest on borrowed money through bond sales is included. Unions hired the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo to advance the union objections. The saga is summarized on the web site www.SanDiegoConventionCenterScam.com:

It was known for years that the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council planned to use CEQA to delay construction of the convention center expansion until it obtained a union monopoly on construction with a Project Labor Agreement. The plans were documented in a March 2011 article It’s Out in the Open: Project Labor Agreement a Costly Possibility for San Diego Convention Center Expansion.

Sure enough, it happened. In several hundred pages of submitted letters and exhibits, the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council and UNITE-HERE Local Union No. 30 in San Diego identified numerous problems…See the May 2012 union comments for the draft Environmental Impact report on the San Diego convention center expansion and the September 2012 union comments for the final Environmental Impact Report on the San Diego convention center expansion.

Read an account of the outrageous incidents that occurred at the September 19, 2012 meeting of the United Port of San Diego Board of Port Commissioners, where union leaders and their law firms brazenly pulled a “document dump” in front of the city’s civic leadership: Unions Threaten Environmental Litigation to Block San Diego Convention Center.

Press conference announcing unions dropping CEQA complaints against San Diego Convention Center Expansion Phase 3.

Press conference announcing unions dropping CEQA complaints against San Diego Convention Center Expansion Phase 3.

Yet all these environmental problems disappeared (except for some minor environmental mitigation in three settlement agreements between these unions and the City of San Diego) once contractors were required to sign a project labor agreement with unions as a condition of working on the project and unions won a memorandum of understanding expanding the unionization of the convention center workforce.

Mayor Jerry Sanders (who was about to leave office) held a press conference on November 8, 2012 with the county’s top union official Lorena Gonzalez (who is planning a campaign for a California State Assembly seat) essentially to announce that the union environmental extortion “greenmail” was effective. The unions made “deals” with the City of San Diego and the prime contractor (a joint venture of Clark Construction Group and Hunt Construction Group) for the San Diego Convention Center Expansion, Phase 3.

San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council Project Labor Agreement for San Diego Convention Center Expansion Phase 3

CEQA Works! Unions get a Project Labor Agreement for the San Diego Convention Center Expansion Phase 3 and environmental concerns are resolved.

The California Coastal Commission may soon consider approval of this project, now unimpeded by earlier concerns cited by unions about how the sea-level rise caused by global warming might submerge the convention center expansion.

The #1 Union “Greenmail” CEQA Exploitation Case of 2013 (So Far): Mono County Geothermal Plants

People in Mono County are incredulous about the tremendous opposition of construction trade unions (specifically, California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) and Laborers Union Local No. 783) to the Ormat Technologies proposed upgrade of its long-existing Mammoth Pacific I geothermal power plant and its proposed Casa Diablo IV geothermal power plant. Actually, every Californian should be outraged about this new round of union “greenmail.”

The web site www.PhonyUnionTreeHuggers.com explains what has happened so far with the proposed Mammoth Pacific I plant upgrade:

At the October 11, 2012 meeting of the Mono County Planning Commission, a staff member informed the commission about “documents received just today” from the law firms of Lozeau Drury and Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo. In response, one commissioner stated that “last-minute documents can’t be read in two minutes without any background.” The commission approved the project on a 4-0 vote.

On October 19, 2012, California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) appealed the Mono County Planning Commission’s decision to approve the Mammoth Pacific I Replacement Project at its October 11, 2012 meeting. CURE was represented by the South San Francisco law firm of Adams Broadwell, Joseph & Cardozo.

Also on October 19, 2012, the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), Local No. 783 (LIUNA) appealed the Mono County Planning Commission’s decision to approve the Mammoth Pacific I Replacement Project at its October 11, 2012 meeting. The union was represented by the Oakland law firm of Lozeau Drury.

On November 13, 2012, the Mono County Board of Supervisors rejected the two union appeals of project approval. Here is the staff report to the Mono County Board of Supervisors on CURE’s appeal.

Local officials knew that Ormat Technologies has been pressured to sign Project Labor Agreements giving unions a monopoly on construction and maintenance. Unions have also harassed the company at the Imperial County Planning Commission, the Imperial County Board of Supervisors, and the California Energy Commission as it seeks approval for geothermal power plants in Imperial County such as Hudson Ranch II.

In fact, the February 28, 2013 meeting agenda of the California Energy Commission includes this item:

California Unions for Reliable Energy v. Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission [that is, the California Energy Commission], Real Parties in Interest Ormat Nevada, Inc., ORNI 18 LLC, and ORNI 19 LLC (Alameda County Superior Court, RG 12610669)

On December 14, 2012, Laborers Union (LIUNA) Local No. 783 filed a lawsuit (Concerned Bishop Residents v. County of Mono) in Mono County Superior Court claiming that the Mono County Board of Supervisors violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it approved Ormat Technologies‘ replacement project for the Mammoth Pacific Unit 1 geothermal power plant. The lawsuit explains that Laborers Union members “regularly travel to the Mammoth Lakes area of Mono County to enjoy its peaceful repose.”

Enjoying its peaceful repose and diversity and rarity of species of plants and animals.

Enjoying its peaceful repose and diversity and rarity of species of plants and animals.

But the ultimate CEQA strike by unions against geothermal power occurred on January 30, 2013, when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management office in Bishop was crushed by an incredible pile of comments from California Unions for Reliable Energy and Laborers Union Local No. 783 objecting to the draft Environmental Impact Report / Environmental Impact Statement for the Casa Diablo IV project. The amount of paper used for these objections probably required an Environmental Impact Report under CEQA.

The comments and associated exhibits are linked at Unions’ January 30, 2013 Comments Against Geothermal Power Plant Must Have Overheated the Printers!

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.

 ↓

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, 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.