Union Campaign Contributions Pile Up Before School Board Vote on Union Deal

Whenever California voters approve a sizable bond measure to fund construction at a school or community college district, union lobbyists quickly scramble to win control of the work through a Project Labor Agreement. At the Salinas Union High School District, a flood of union campaign money preceded a September 29 board vote to abandon negotiations and impose a Project Labor Agreement under terms demanded by the unions.

In November 2014, 60.3% of voters in Salinas, California authorized the Salinas Union High School District to borrow $128 million for facilities construction by selling bonds to investors. Information provided to voters about the bond measure did not indicate any intention of the school district to require its construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions. In fact, the district had successfully completed a previous bond-funded construction program without a Project Labor Agreement mandate.

Salinas Union High School District Project Labor AgreementFour months after voters approved the borrowing, a Project Labor Agreement discussion appeared as an item on March 24, 2015 board agenda. After the head of the Salinas Valley Federation of Teachers urged the board to mandate a Project Labor Agreement, most of the board members declared their enthusiastic support for it.

On May 26, the board voted 5-1 to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement with the unions. Unless the district could negotiate different terms to protect fair and open bid competition on its contracts, the union agreement would require all contractors on a new high school to obtain their journeymen and apprentices from the unions, pay all employee fringe benefits to union trust funds, and arrange for their workers to pay union dues and fees.

To the dismay of board members, the finalized Project Labor Agreement did not come back for quick approval.

District staff and its attorney tried to work in the interest of the district to negotiate better terms and conditions, rather than simply signing the standard Project Labor Agreement template provided by the union attorney. Throughout the summer, union negotiators were unwilling to budge on a variety of provisions.

In the meantime, the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Salinas Taxpayers Association, and several local and regional construction associations informed the public about the union plot. The Chamber of Commerce even publicized the names and official public phone numbers of board members.

It was a rare and unexpected occasion of public accountability for the policy decisions of the school board. In fact, most news coverage of the Salinas Union High School District from March through September was about construction labor issues, not the education of high school students.

Board members responded angrily during board meetings and in local newspaper articles about what was happening. They complained about negative community attention generated by business groups and the barrage of critical phone calls. They also expressed frustration with the district’s failure to surrender to union negotiating demands. At board meetings, they responded to questions from the district’s negotiating attorney by showing disinterest and even contempt for the arcane but important issues disputed in the proposed agreement.

It’s reasonable to assume that the unpleasant public attention to this issue worried the three incumbent board members up for re-election on November 3, 2015. All three of them supported the Project Labor Agreement.

Starting at the beginning of August, the unions supporting the Project Labor Agreement (the Salinas Valley Federation of Teachers, the California School Employees Association, and the Monterey/Santa Cruz Building and Construction Trades Council) began funding the campaigns of those three incumbents running for re-election. In fact, these unions were the only major contributors to their campaigns. See the timeline below.

Major Campaign Contributions from Unions to Salinas Union High School District Board of Trustees

At the September 22 meeting board meeting, the attorney representing the school district began yet another presentation outlining areas of disagreement between the unions and the district regarding the Project Labor Agreements, As usual, she sought direction from the board. But for some reason, a majority of the school board chose this time to terminate the negotiations. They scheduled a special board meeting on September 29 solely to vote on the version of the Project Labor Agreement desired by the unions.

Salinas Union High School District Board

At that meeting, the board voted 5-1 for the Project Labor Agreement. Union officials organized an impromptu celebration rally outside of the school district headquarters and had photos taken with some of the board members who voted for it. The unions’ investment of money in the board members’ campaigns had presumably helped to ensure approval of the Project Labor Agreement.

Whether the union campaign contributions ensure re-election of the board members remains to be seen.

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.

Parents Need to be Aware of Union Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

Last week was a bad one for children due to some of our more lupine unions. The first blow to the kiddos came from the Service Employees International Union. A powerful local, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, cut insurance for its members’ children. It seems that the powerful local and even more powerful parent — prime supporters of Obamacare — came to realize that it couldn’t afford to handle the costly financial consequences of the recent healthcare legislation. So the most expedient thing way for them to cut costs was to drop healthcare coverage for children.

Then, across the country in Petaluma, CA, the local school district, like so many others in cash-strapped states, has been cutting millions from its budget over the last few years. According to Pete Peterson, writing in City Journal,

The cuts have meant layoffs for district employees at all levels, from teachers to playground supervisors. In response, parents and concerned Petalumans have stepped forward to try to fill the non-teaching gaps, volunteering their time to maintain school services. The volunteers have worked in new roles identified by the school administration, but they’ve also stepped in to perform jobs eliminated by budget cuts. But those positions are unionized by the California School Employees’ Association (CSEA)—and that’s where the problems started.

When volunteers began to help answer phones in the office and support the school librarian at Petaluma Junior High School, CSEA Local 212 president Loretta Kruusmagi immediately objected. Representing 350 clerical and janitorial staff in the Petaluma school district, Kruusmagi betrays not the least concern for the kids her union supposedly serves when she glowers: “As far as I’m concerned, they never should have started this thing. Noon-duty people [lunchtime and playground assistants]—those are instructional assistants. We had all those positions. We don’t have them anymore, but those are our positions. Our stand is you can’t have volunteers, they can’t do our work.” Notice the possessiveness with which Kruusmagi regards these “public servants.”

So here is a union that represents school employees telling the district and its parents that they rather see children suffer than accept some timely and probably temporary volunteer help. The next time you hear one of these arrogant, self-important and heavy-handed unionistas talk about how they “care about the children,” please remember that it is a fairy tale, with the union playing the role of the big bad wolf.

Just two days ago, the Los Angeles Times published its second blockbuster education story in four months. In August, the Times set the education world atwitter when they published teacher “value added” rankings, much to the consternation of the local teachers’ union, the United Teachers of Los Angeles. The current story delves into the unfairness of a system where performance doesn’t matter when staffing decisions are made. If teachers need to be let go – a common occurrence in fiscally tight times – the layoffs are done strictly by seniority and some of the great younger teachers are given pink slips.

Only a union leader hiding in sheep’s clothing would have us believe that quality should take a back seat to sheer numbers of years on the job when a child’s education – and future — is at stake. Cue UTLA President A.J. Duffy. At a talk to some young teachers at John H. Liechty Middle School in an impoverished part of LA, he was heard to say,

“Saving your jobs would mean that more experienced teachers would lose theirs…. Seniority is the only fair way to do it… and any exception would be ‘an act of disloyalty.’”

An act of disloyalty? To whom? The children who lost some terrific young teachers, who got bumped out of a job by someone who had seniority? No, Duffy’s priority is not children; it is the teacher who has been on the job the longest that is Duffy’s focus. Never mind that studies have shown that after the first few years, teacher time on the job does not translate into better student learning.

There are many good young teachers who have lost jobs to older, less effective ones, and the teachers’ unions will fight tooth and nail to ensure that this policy stays in place. If Duffy was honest, he’d say, “Kids, too bad, but we really don’t care about what’s best for you.”

Children of union employees losing their health insurance, parent volunteers trying to help their local school wind up with a union decrying their efforts and a union insisting on keeping an archaic seniority system in place – parents, it’s advisable to keep your children away from these people as best you can. Leaving your children exposed and vulnerable to big bad wolves is hardly a road to happily ever after.

About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan,non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.