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Finally Got It! Secret Union Deal for San Diego Convention Center

Through relentless and tedious persistence and a willingness to disturb “the Establishment” of the country’s eighth most populous city, the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction (based in California) has finally succeeded in obtaining and exposing a document revealing how the office of former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders (a Republican) arranged a secret and costly deal with Lorena Gonzalez, the former head of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO, to end union-initiated legal obstacles to the $520 million expansion of the San Diego Convention Center.

Mayor Sanders Calendar September 21 2012As outlined in the September 21, 2012 email from Mayor Sanders’ Chief of Staff Julie Dubick (see text below), unions would drop or settle their environmental objections under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to the proposed San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion. Unions would also drop their lawsuit challenging the structure of a tax assessment to pay back the principal and interest on bonds sold to borrow money for the expansion. Unions would openly and actively support the convention center expansion at the San Diego City Council and at the California Coastal Commission.

In exchange, the San Diego Mayor’s Office would facilitate negotiations between the unions and the construction manager at-risk selected for the project (Clark Construction) for a Project Labor Agreement with construction trade unions. (Yes, this was a classic case of union CEQA “greenmail” that Governor Jerry Brown and the Democrat majority in the California State Legislature apparently want to shield from CEQA reform measures.)

Developing this labor agreement had to be done subtly and undercover. San Diego voters had approved an ordinance (Proposition A) three months earlier that prohibited the city from requiring contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement as a condition of working on city projects.

Also as part of the deal, the Mayor’s Office would initiate discussions with Marriott hotel management in support of a union position (apparently on behalf of UNITE HERE Local Union No. 30) and appoint someone acceptable to the unions to the San Diego Convention Center Corporation Board of Directors.

The-Moment-of-LIE-San-Diego-Convention-Center-Project-Labor-Agreement1-e1353109801912All of this was done without any public hearings or public votes by any elected or appointed board with any authority over the project. On November 8, Mayor Sanders hastily convened a press conference featuring Lorena Gonzalez to announce that unions now supported the convention center expansion.

On that same day, he appointed Laurie Coskey – the Executive Director of the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice – to the San Diego Convention Center Corporation Board of Directors.

Even the environmental settlements were cynical. Unions ended up abandoning their demand that the Environmental Impact Report address the effect on the convention center expansion of an expected sea level rise caused by global warming. As it turns out, the California Coastal Commission sees this as a legitimate concern. City officials anticipated that the Coastal Commission would promptly approve the project, but this has not happened despite the new union enthusiasm for it.

The Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction needed nine months to fit this puzzle together. It had repeatedly failed under the authority of the California Public Records Act to obtain any records of substance about the suspected deal, even after filing a lawsuit against the City of San Diego.

Those requests for public records were foiled because the Chief of Staff for the Mayor of San Diego was using a private Gmail address to facilitate meetings between top city officials and top union officials. In fact, the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction suspects that a lot more wheeling and dealing between the city and the unions was probably occurring through the use of private email accounts. The people of San Diego still remain ignorant of how their government works in practice. (One could surmise that union officials like it that way.)

This particular case suggests the following list of outrages:

  1. Using private email accounts for public business in order to evade the state’s public records access laws and keep the press and the public uninformed.
  2. Secret and devious arrangements meant to circumvent a city ordinance approved by voters.
  3. Abuse of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to attain economic objectives unrelated to environmental protection.
  4. Subversion of fair and open bid competition by requiring construction contractors to sign a contract with unions as a condition of work.
  5. Union favoritism.
  6. Appointing someone with obvious union connections to a government board in exchange for union support of a project.
  7. Government intervention in the relationship between a private employer and union officials eager to represent its employees (for a price) in exchange for union support of a project.
  8. Potential cost increases on a government project resulting from reduced bid competition and the administrative costs of an unnecessary labor contract.
  9. Abandonment of environmental objections subsequently identified by the California Coastal Commission to be legitimate concerns.
  10. Perpetuating civic decline by surrendering to organizations that exploit California’s burdensome legal code for personal gain.

Lorena Gonzalez SignLessons for the Next Generation

Mayor Jerry Sanders left office (to be replaced by Bob Filner) with a legacy of achievement and is now President & CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. Lorena Gonzalez left her union position with a legacy of achievement and won a special election to the California State Assembly, District 80, with the heartfelt campaign slogan “Honesty in the Assembly.”


Here is the text of the document revealing the secret union deal for the San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion:

From: Dubick, Julie
Sent: Friday, September 21, 2012 9:46 AM
To: ‘LGonzalez@unionyes.org’; ‘tklein@unionyes.org’
Subject: Doc3[1 ].docx
Attachments: Doc31 doc.docx

From: Dubick, Julie
Sent: Friday, September 21, 2012 9:47 AM
To: ‘Stephen Cushman’
Subject: Doc3[1] .docx
Attachments: Doc31 doc.docx

Here is suggested language. Please confirm receipt to jpdubick@gmail.com. See you at 2pm today. Julie

San Diego Convention Center Union Deal

Primary Source Documents:

Proposition A (approved by 58% of San Diego voters in June 2012) – City of San Diego Fair and Open Competition ordinance – prohibition on city-mandated Project Labor Agreements

Browning vs. The San Diego City Council (UNITE HERE Local 30 lawsuit)

Union Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Report for San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) – June 29, 2012

Union Comments on Final Environmental Impact Report for San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) – September 19, 2012

Settlement Agreement – Building Trades Unions – San Diego Convention Center – 2012 (ENVIRONMENTAL SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT FOR THE CONVENTION CENTER PHASE III EXPANSION AND EXPANSION HOTEL PROJECT BY CITY OF SAN DIEGO; SAN DIEGO COALITION FOR A BETTER CONVENTION CENTER; SAN DIEGO COUNTY BUILDING AND CONSTRUCTION TRADES COUNCIL; UNITE HERE LOCAL 30; AND BILLIE JOHNSON)

Settlement Agreement – UNITE-HERE Union Local 30 – San Diego Convention Center – 2012 (SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT FOR THE CONVENTION CENTER PHASE III EXPANSION AND EXPANSION HOTEL PROJECT BY AND BETWEEN CITY OF SAN DIEGO; BRIGETTE BROWNING; SERGIO GONZALES; AND UNITE HERE LOCAL 30)

Settlement Agreement – Various Construction Trade Unions – San Diego Convention Center – 2012 (ENVIRONMENTAL SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT FOR THE CONVENTION CENTER PHASE III EXPANSION AND EXPANSION HOTEL PROJECT BY CITY OF SAN DIEGO; CITY OF SAN DIEGO CITY COUNCIL; SAN DIEGO CONVENTION CENTER FACILITIES DISTRICT NO. 2012-1; COALITION FOR RESPONSIBLE CONVENTION CENTER PLANNING; TERRY LUTNICK; CINNA BROWN; AARON MICHAELSON; INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRIC (sic) WORKERS LOCAL 569; UNITED ASSOCIATION OF PLUMBERS & STEAMFITTERS LOCAL 230; SHEETMETAL WORKERS LOCAL 206; AND IRONWORKERS LOCAL 229)

San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion Project Labor Agreement

San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council press release celebrating the Project Labor Agreement on the San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion – November 15, 2012

Comprehensive Background:

www.SanDiegoConventionCenterScam.com

It’s Out in the Open: Project Labor Agreement a Costly Possibility for San Diego Convention Center Expansion – www.TheTruthaboutPLAs.com – March 11, 2011

Unions Submit 436 Pages of Objections to Draft Environmental Impact Report for Proposed San Diego Convention Center Phase III Expansion Project: CEQA Abuse Run Rampant – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – August 8, 2012

Brazen! Union Officials and Their Environmental Lawyers at Port Commissioners’ Meeting Threaten to Stop San Diego Convention Center Expansion Using California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – September 20, 2012

Unions Threaten Environmental Litigation to Block San Diego Convention Center – www.UnionWatch.org – September 20, 2012

Union Officials Intimidate San Diego Civic Leaders – www.FlashReport.org – September 20, 2012

CEQA Greenmail Still Effective for Unions in San Diego: Just a Cost of Doing Business for Pragmatic Civic Leaders – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – October 10, 2012

Unions Get Control of San Diego Convention Center Expansion: CEQA Abuse Is Effective, Fair and Open Competition Ordinance Evaded – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – November 8, 2012

Unions and Mayor in San Diego Brag to the Public about San Diego Convention Center Construction Deal, But Refuse to Provide It to the Public – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – November 13, 2012

Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction Obtains City of San Diego Settlement Agreements with Unions for Convention Center – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – November 15, 2012

San Diego Union Officials Ignored Global Warming-Related Sea Level Rise in Environmental Settlements for San Diego Convention Center Expansion, Despite Identifying It as Major Deficiency Under CEQA – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – November 15, 2012

San Diego News Media Reports on Aggressive Opposition to Project Labor Agreement on Convention Center Expansion – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – November 16, 2012

Where is the Project Labor Agreement for the San Diego Convention Center Expansion? A Press Conference Outlining an Action Plan – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – November 16, 2012

Website Dedicated to Exposing Wasteful and Fraudulent Nature of San Diego Convention Center Expansion – San Diego Rostra – January 16, 2013

Highlighting the Top Union Abuses of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) – www.FlashReport.org – February 18, 2013

Persistent Pressure Compels San Diego to Spit Out Project Labor Agreement – www.UnionWatch.org – April 23, 2013


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.

Judicial Council of California Imposes Project Labor Agreement on San Diego Courthouse

Excerpts from four documents (obtained from California’s Administrative Office of the Courts on June 5, 2013 through a public records request) reveal the successful behind-the-scenes plot within the California court system involving top staff of the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Judicial Council to give construction trade unions monopoly control of the $586 million new San Diego County Central Courthouse with a Project Labor Agreement. Although the Judicial Council claims to have “a comprehensive process for soliciting, gathering, and considering public comment on proposals during the policy development process,” the hasty internal process of deciding to negotiate, negotiating, and executing a Project Labor Agreement was not included on the last meeting agenda of the Judicial Council on April 25-26, 2013.

This labor pact will cut competition and raise costs for the benefit of unions. For example, see the 2011 study from the National University System Institute for Policy Research in San Diego entitled Measuring the Cost of Project Labor Agreements on School Construction in California.

How do taxpayers in the San Diego region feel about fair and open competition versus Project Labor Agreements? We know from actual votes.

  • In June 2012, 56% of voters in the City of San Diego approved Proposition A to prohibit government-mandated Project Labor Agreements on city projects.
  • In November 2010, 76% of voters in the County of San Diego approved Proposition A to prohibit government-mandated Project Labor Agreements on county projects.
  • In June 2010, 56% of voters in the City of Chula Vista (the second most populous city in San Diego County) approved Proposition G to prohibit government-mandated Project Labor Agreements on city projects
  • In June 2010 54% of voters in the City of Oceanside (the third most populous city in San Diego County) approved Proposition K, a charter that included an explicit provision to prohibit government-mandated Project Labor Agreements on city projects.

Citizens in the San Diego region – the region to be served by this courthouse – clearly do not support govenment-mandated monopolies on taxpayer-funded construction. No wonder the Project Labor Agreement was arranged by the head of the Sacramento-based State Building and Construction Trades Council of California rather than locally in San Diego.

At least everyone now knows not to waste money filing a lawsuit in the California court system challenging a government-mandated Project Labor Agreement. Would judges favor unions for construction contracts in their own system while denying this kind of deal to other government entities? Obviously lawyers for unions will now and forever launch their arguments by pointing out that the California court system itself requires its construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of winning a job.

The story was first revealed in the UT San Diego (San Diego Union-Tribune) in its June 7, 2013 article Courthouse to Be Built Under Labor Pact. The UT San Diego (San Diego Union-Tribune) then posted an editorial on June 9, 2013 entitled Public Safety Loses, Labor Wins at New Courthouse.

Also, see my blog post about this Project Labor Agreement in the context of the larger Senate Bill 1407 courthouse construction program at Union Quest for Project Labor Agreements from Judicial Council of California and Administrative Office of the Courts Succeeds with San Diego County Central Courthouse.

Excerpts from the four actual documents explain the plot. (Note: one of them is “Confidential.”)

1. March 22, 2013 Memorandum to Curt Child, Chief Operating Officer from Ray Polidoro, Manager, Judicial Branch Capital Program Office, Subject: New San Diego Central Courthouse RE: Project Labor Agreement 

The State Building and Construction Trades Council has asked the Administrative Office of the Courts to consider using a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) on the construction for the New San Diego Central Courthouse Project (the Project)…The JBCP is requesting that Justice Hill, as chair of the Court Facilities Working Group, review the use of a PLA on the Project. The following provides a definition and some background on PLAs…

There is variation among the provisions in PLAs, but generally they contain two key components. The first involves how labor disputes will be handled. Contractors who are party to PLAs agree not to lock out workers from worksites. In turn, the construction trade unions agree to not strike or disrupt the construction…

The second core component found with PLAs involves who will be hired and the conditions of their employment. Signatories to these agreements recognize labor unions as the exclusive bargaining representative for all project workers. Most PLAs require workers on the project to pay union dues, regardless of their membership status, and that contractors make payments on behalf of all their workers to union-affiliated fringe benefit trust funds during the course of the project.

In the debate over the use of PLAs, one of the most prominent areas of disagreement is whether these agreements affect construction costs…Opponents argue that PLAs increase costs. They claim that the requirements imposed by PLAs discourage nonunion contractors from bidding on projects and subcontractors from participating. This reduced competition could result in overall higher bids. Opponents also claim that the work condition rules required in PLAs increase labor costs and that these are passed onto the projects (sic) owner.

Rudolph and Sletten, the CM@Risk for the Project, has done several PLAs and as a result can leverage their knowledge and relationships in structuring favorable terms for a PLA to contain costs.

2. April 4, 2013 letter from Curtis L. Child, Chief Operating Officer, Judicial Council of California Administrative Office of the Courts to Dan Dolinar, Executive Vice President, Chief of Operations, Rudolph and Sletten – CONFIDENTIAL 

The Court Facilities Working Group Executive Committee provided direction to AOC [Administrative Office of the Courts] staff to amend the R&S [Rudolph & Sletten] agreement to require R&S to negotiate a PLA specific to the San Diego Project and to be signatory to the agreement with the trades. R&S and AOC will jointly participate in the negotiations with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California (Trades Council).

Representatives of the Trades Council will participate in the negotiations. Other unions may also participate in the negotiations. Although the AOC is sensitive to the Trades Council’s expectations, the AOC and R&S will negotiate favorable PLA terms to minimize the potential for any construction cost increase. The negotiations and execution of a PLA by Rudolph & Sletten and the trades must not delay bidding on the San Diego Project. If an agreement between the parties is not reached by April 30, 2013, a PLA will not be required on this project.

If the PLA negotiations are successful, only R&S and the trades will be party to the PLA. For the PLA to become effective, though, all of R&S’s trade contractors over a minimum contract amount will be required to execute a letter of assent, agreeing to be bound by the PLA. The AOC will prepare necessary revisions to the current AOC I R&S Agreement to incorporate the PLA. The PLA will have to be part of R&S’s prequalification packages that R&S plans to send to its trade contractors in the beginning of May 2013.

The AOC has contacted representatives of the Trades Council and set up the first negotiation session to be in Sacramento at the State Building and Construction Trade Council office at 1225 8th Street, Suite 375, Sacramento, CA 95814 on April 12, 2013, 9:00am to 12:00pm and any additional sessions to be determined.

Thank you for R&S’s continued cooperation to incorporate a PLA into R&S’s contract and into this San Diego Project…

3. April 5, 2013 letter from Curtis L. Child, Chief Operating Officer, Judicial Council of California Administrative Office of the Courts to Robbie Hunter, President, State Building and Construction Trades Council of California 

This letter is to confirm that the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) has agreed to meet with you and Ray Van Der Naught (sic) [Ray Van der Nat], the attorney for the State Building and Construction Trades Council (Council), at the Council’s office on April 12, 201 3 from 9 a.m. to noon for the purpose of negotiating a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for the San Diego New Central Courthouse Project (San Diego Project)… I look forward to seeing you on April 12 and to fruitful discussions among the Council, R&S, and the AOC.

4. May 8, 2013 email from Steven Jahr to the Judicial Council of the Administrative Office of the Courts 

From: Jahr, Steven (Administrative Director of the Courts for California)

Sent: Wednesday, May 08, 2013 11:54 AM

To: AOC JC Members Only [Administrative Offfice of the Courts Judicial Council]

Cc: Bocchicchio, Michael; Byrd, Donald; Capozzi, Anthony; Castellanos, Stephan; Chang, Steven; Cooper, Hon. Candace D.; Davis, Keith D.; Feng, Hon. Samuel; Foiles, Robert D.; Fowler-Bradley, Melissa; Highberger, William; Hill, Brad; Hirschfeld, Burt; Ignacio, Donna; Jacobs-May, Hon. Jamie A.; Johnson, Jeffrey W.; Lucas, Hon. Patricia M.; Magnusson, Chris; Masunaga, Laura; Miessner, Leslie; Nash, Stephen H.; Olivas, Noema; Orozco, Hon. Gary R.; Power, David; Quinn, Kelly; Robinson, Akilah; Romero-Soles, Linda; Ruano, Teresa; Spikes, Larry; Stinson, Kevin; Toppenberg, Val; Trentacosta, Robert J.; Warwick, Thomas; Willoughby, Lee

Subject: San Diego Central Courthouse Project

Members of the Judicial Council:

I want to make you aware of a pending announcement by the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California regarding a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with our selected contractor (Rudolph and Sletten, Inc.) for construction of the new Central Courthouse project for San Diego, the state’s largest courthouse construction project. The Trades Council has expressed continued interest to the AOC about entering into such an agreement on this project. Following negotiations regarding potential terms and conditions of a PLA between Rudolph and Sletten and the Trades Council, (with input from the AOC), we concluded that this approach was beneficial.

I requested that the contractor enter into a PLA with the Trades Council to ensure certainty and timeliness as well as reduce variables in a construction project of this magnitude. This will be the first state courthouse project on which a PLA is signed. I should emphasize that we are considering this PLA to be a pilot effort that the Court Facilities Working Group and AOC will continuously evaluate for costs and benefits going forward, about which I will keep the Judicial Council apprised.

As you know, the new 71-courtroom facility is badly needed because of serious seismic and security issues and other significant functional problems. At $586 million for the total project (of which $544 million is construction), any delay can be costly. The Court Facilities Working Group and the AOC have worked with all parties, including the Legislature, the Department of Finance, County, and City to keep the project moving forward. To that end, the PLA is being put in place to ensure that this momentum continues by preventing potential expensive delays and related costs.

We realize there are some who criticize PLAs. We have examined those criticisms and believe for this project there is an overall benefit. We have been advised that a number of collective bargaining agreements for involved trades will come up for renewal within the construction window for this job. The terms of the PLA ensure that the construction process will be uninterrupted by those renewal anniversaries. The agreement precludes strikes and would prevent delays caused by shortages of qualified workers in the relevant trades. It will also streamline management of the project. We believe the PLA will be cost-effective. It will apply to most, but not all, of the bid packages—those smaller than $125,000 at all bid tiers will be exempt. Additionally, the PLA provides that the project has a built-in local participation goal of 30 percent for San Diego trades. (The Long Beach project, through Long Beach Judicial Partners, LLC, also is operating under a PLA. Examples of other projects with PLA in San Diego include Petco Field and the San Diego Convention Center.)

Packages for subcontractor prequalification are now being disseminated by the contractor. The AOC along with the contractor are taking steps to do outreach to local, small, emerging, and minority businesses, as well as the Disabled Veterans Business Enterprise Program to encourage them to bid on portions of the project. The project is scheduled for a fall bond sale with a construction start date by the end of December 2013.

There will be a further briefing on the PLA approach at an educational session during the June council meeting.

Steve


Who’s Responsible? The Judicial Council

The Judicial Council is the policymaking body of the California courts, the largest court system in the nation. Under the leadership of the Chief Justice and in accordance with the California Constitution, the council is responsible for ensuring the consistent, independent, impartial, and accessible administration of justice. The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) implements the council’s policies.

Chair

Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye 
Chief Justice of California

Supreme Court

Hon. Marvin R. Baxter
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court 

Courts of Appeal

Hon. Judith Ashmann-Gerst 
Associate Justice of the Court of Appeal
Second Appellate District, Division Two
Los Angeles

Hon. Harry E. Hull, Jr.
Associate Justice of the Court of Appeal
Third Appellate District
Sacramento

Hon. Douglas P. Miller
Associate Justice of the Court of Appeal
Fourth Appellate District, Division Two
Riverside 

Trial Courts

Hon. Stephen H. Baker
Judge of the Superior Court of California,
County of Shasta

Hon. James R. Brandlin
Judge of the Superior Court of California,
County of Los Angeles

Hon. David De Alba
Judge of the Superior Court of California,
County of Sacramento

Hon. Emilie H. Elias
Judge of the Superior Court of California
County of Los Angeles

Hon. Sherrill A. Ellsworth
Presiding Judge of the Superior Court of California,
County of Riverside

Hon. James E. Herman
Judge of the Superior Court of California,
County of Santa Barbara

Hon. Teri L. Jackson
Judge of the Superior Court of California,
County of San Francisco

Hon. Ira R. Kaufman
Assistant Presiding Judge of the Superior Court of California,
County of Plumas

Hon. Mary Ann O’Malley
Judge of the Superior Court of California,
County of Contra Costa

Hon. David Rosenberg
Judge of the Superior Court of California,
County of Yolo

State Bar

Ms. Angela J. Davis
United States Department of Justice
Office of U.S. Attorney

Mr. James P. Fox
Attorney at Law

Ms. Edith R. Matthai
Attorney at Law

Mr. Mark P. Robinson, Jr.
Attorney at Law

Advisory Members

Hon. Sue Alexander
Commissioner of the Superior Court of California,
County of Alameda

Mr. Alan Carlson 
Chief Executive Officer
Superior Court of California,
County of Orange

Hon. Laurie M. Earl
Presiding Judge of the Superior Court of California,
County of Sacramento

Hon. Allan D. Hardcastle
Judge of the Superior Court of California,
County of Sonoma

Hon. Morris D. Jacobson
Judge of the Superior Court of California,
County of Alameda

Hon. Brian L. McCabe
Presiding Judge of the Superior Court of California,
County of Merced

Hon. Robert James Moss
Judge of the Superior Court of California,
County of Orange

Hon. Kenneth K. So
Judge of the Superior Court of California,
County of San Diego

Ms. Mary Beth Todd
Court Executive Officer
Superior Court of California,
County of Sutter

Hon. Charles D. Wachob
Assistant Presiding Judge of the Superior Court of California,
County of Placer

Mr. David H. Yamasaki
Court Executive Officer 
Superior Court of California,
County of Santa Clara

Secretary

Judge Steven Jahr
Administrative Director of the Courts


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.

Persistent Pressure Compels San Diego to Spit Out Project Labor Agreement

For five months, the City of San Diego refused to give the public a Project Labor Agreement negotiated for its planned $520 million convention center expansion. This union agreement was reportedly the result of a backroom deal involving top union leaders, but multiple requests for it under the authority of the California Public Records Act failed to dislodge it.

But today (April 23, 2013), the city provided the labor agreement to the public, less than 24 hours after a construction organization filed a lawsuit to get it. 

Here are some of the twists and turns of this saga, which serves as an excellent case study in how unions manipulate public policy at the state and local level in California.

In May 2012, the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council submitted a massive objection under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) against the draft Environmental Impact Report for the proposed San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion. Four months later, the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council submitted another massive CEQA objection against the revised and final Environmental Impact Report, this time choosing the drama of presenting it during a packed meeting at which San Diego port commissioners were scheduled to approve the project. (Attorneys for unions routinely engage in last-minute CEQA “document dumps” at California public meetings in order to intimidate public officials and developers into surrendering to union economic demands.)

In November 2012, a few days after union-backed Congressman Bob Filner was elected as the next mayor, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and Lorena Gonzalez – head of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Central Labor Council – held a press conference to announce a settlement concerning the union CEQA complaints and also a settlement concerning a union-backed lawsuit challenging the financing method for the project. The settlements resolved very few of the environmental concerns indicated in the union CEQA complaints – not even the subsequently high-profile concern of protecting the project from sea level rise caused by global warming.

However, the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council now had a Project Labor Agreement for construction of the Convention Center expansion, as proclaimed in a press release. And UNITE-HERE Local No. 30 “extended their Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), ensuring a unionized operation of the Convention Center once expanded,” according to Lorena Gonzalez.

If the apparent union “greenmail” of the project using CEQA as leverage to get labor agreements wasn’t controversial enough, the Project Labor Agreement also appeared to violate a ballot measure (Proposition A) approved by 58% of San Diego voters in June 2012. That ballot measure established a “Fair and Open Competition” ordinance prohibiting the city from entering into contracts that require construction companies to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions as a condition of work. It was put on the ballot in part to protect the convention center from ongoing union lobbying efforts at the city council to win monopoly control of  its construction.

Up to that time, voters and elected boards of local governments throughout the state had been defying union officials and approving Fair and Open Competition policies, starting in October 2009 with Orange County. In response, the California State Legislature passed and Governor Jerry Brown signed into law two bills (Senate Bill 922 and Senate Bill 829) pushed by then-State Senator Michael Rubio to nullify all Fair and Open Competition policies in counties and general law cities and cut off state funding for charter cities (such as San Diego) that enacted or failed to repeal such policies.

Union leaders in San Diego, particularly Lorena Gonzalez, repeatedly warned that the state would cut off money to the City of San Diego if voters didn’t repeal the Fair and Open Competition ordinance they had approved in June 2012. But for now this dramatic threat has proven to be empty, and Proposition A remains in the City of San Diego Municipal Code.

An unexpected political development occurred a few weeks after the mayor and top county union leader announced the settlement agreements for the convention center: Lorena Gonzalez announced her candidacy for the 80th Assembly District seat that would soon become vacant. Like the Eye of Sauron, union political focus in San Diego County shifted from government-mandated unionization to the task of getting her elected.

Meanwhile, a group called the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction sought to obtain the Project Labor Agreement as the preliminary step to a planned lawsuit contending that the union deal violated the Proposition A ordinance. None of the many parties involved – including the City of San Diego – would provide the document, and finally the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction filed a lawsuit against the city to get it.

A press release dated April 18, 2013 stated the following:

“We’re going to get that union Project Labor Agreement, expose it to the public, and make every schemer involved with this union sweetheart deal accountable for breaking the law,” said Eric Christen, executive director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction.

Perhaps a schemer somewhere was getting nervous. The city promptly handed over the Project Labor Agreement today, April 23, 2013.

Note that the aggressive actions of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction repulse many civic leaders in San Diego. It disrupts the cozy relationship of politicians, unions, and business interests giving each other special favors to get the convention center expanded. It creates additional controversy for a project already under scrutiny for the bizarre tax scheme involving hotel room fee assessments that will be used to pay back the borrowed money (and interest) obtained through bond sales to pay for construction. At a more basic level, many impartial observers believe the expansion is unnecessary and foolish.

Exposing the shenanigans of unions and their cohorts in California wins few friends among the powerful, but it does disgust the ordinary voter who ends up paying for it, one way or another.

Sources:

Project Labor Agreement for the San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion

Lawsuit to Obtain Copy of Union Project Labor Agreement on San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion

Letter claiming the Project Labor Agreement for this public project is a “Trade Secret”

Settlement Agreement – Building Trades Unions – San Diego Convention Center – 2012

Settlement Agreement – Various Construction Trade Unions – San Diego Convention Center – 2012

May 2012 Union CEQA Objections to the Draft Environmental Impact Report on the San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion

September 2012 Union CEQA Objections to the Final Environmental Impact Report on the San Diego convention center Phase 3 Expansion

Background on Proposition A, the Fair and Open Competition ordinance approved by 58% of San Diego voters in June 2012

For more detailed information, see these web sites:

www.SanDiegoConventionCenterScam.com

“San Diego Convention Center” articles in www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com

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.