Union Abuse of California Environmental Laws Goes On, Unabated

The Planning Commission for the City of Petaluma, California (in Sonoma County) experienced the full brunt of union abuse of environmental laws (“greenmail”) at its meeting tonight (June 24, 2014) to consider approving a prominent proposed development project.

Petaluma City HallCalling themselves “Petaluma Residents for Responsible Development,” the Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties Building and Construction Trades Council hired the South San Francisco law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo to submit objections to the proposed Riverfront Mixed-Use Development Project. At stake are 1,952 construction jobs that unions want to control, apparently by getting the developer to sign a Project Labor Agreement.

In June 2013, the unions’ law firm submitted a request to the City of Petaluma to extend the comment period for an Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration (a common tactic to drag out the environmental review process). Then it submitted objections on behalf of the unions to the city’s Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration. After the city proceeded to develop a Draft Environmental Impact Report, the unions objected to that. (See links to these sets of comments, below.)

Finally, at 4:00 p.m. on the day of the Planning Commission meeting to approve the Final Environmental Impact Report, the unions submitted more objections. Last-minute “document dumps” objecting to environmental reviews are a tried-and-true tactic of California labor unions.

Comments submitted at 4:00 p.m. on day of Petaluma Planning Commission meeting.

Comments submitted at 4:00 p.m. on day of Petaluma Planning Commission meeting.

According to these comments, construction unions are very worried about how the development will be affected by sea level rise resulting from global warming. They also have concerns about compromised air quality and other threats to the environment.

At the June 24, 2014 meeting, the lawyer for the unions defended their environmental objections against “people in the audience” who attended the meeting to expose the ulterior motivations of the unions and called for reform of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Also defending their quest to save the planet from the impact of construction were representatives of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local Union No. 551 and the Sheet Metal Workers International Union Local No. 104.

As Planning Commissioners made their comments about the proposed project before their votes, one commissioner noted the claim from a representative of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction that unions submitted last-minute environmental objections to pressure the developer to sign a Project Labor Agreement. A representative for the developer (Basin Street Properties) responded that union officials (including those who spoke during public comment) approached Basin Street Properties asking for a Project Labor Agreement, they had negotiations, but the unions rejected their offer. (View this exchange from 2:47:33 to 2:49:47 in the meeting video.)

Unless the developer of the Riverfront Mixed-Use Project surrenders to the union demands, it’s likely the Petaluma City Council will encounter the same environmental objections and abusive legal tactics when it considers approval of the project.

Union Request for Extension of Public Comment Period for Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration – June 26, 2013

Union Objections to Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration – July 25, 2013

Union Objections to Draft Environmental Impact Report – February 6, 2014

Union Objections to Final Environmental Impact Report – June 24, 2014

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.

How a Basketball Arena Would Expand the Unionized Workforce in Sacramento: Part 1

Proponents of a proposed $447 million new “entertainment and sports center” in downtown Sacramento for the Kings professional basketball team claim the arena itself would generate over 4,000 full-time jobs, including employees hired temporarily for construction, employees for operations of the arena, and other outside service jobs related to arena events and activities. Proponents also claim that 11,700 total jobs would be created through construction and permanent employment at ancillary downtown development around the arena.

Unions want to represent every one of those workers who are not legitimately classified as management. Their plan is not to attain control of these jobs through merit or through selling the benefits of unionism to workers, but through backroom deals. These deals include an already-implemented Project Labor Agreement, a proposed Community Benefit Agreement, and other side agreements for employee retention and employer neutrality in organizing campaigns.

This is Part One, explaining the background of how construction trade unions have already obtained a monopoly on the construction workforce for the arena itself. Part Two will explain the union plot to monopolize the service jobs at the arena. Part Three will address the construction and permanent jobs at the ancillary development around the arena.

Kings Arena

Construction of the Arena

Project Labor Agreement Long Expected

As far back as October 2003, Sacramento construction trade union officials were alluding to their desire for a Project Labor Agreement on a possible new Kings basketball arena. Groups such as the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, Associated Builders and Contractors, and the Western Electrical Contractors Association began efforts to try to preserve fair and open competition.

For union leaders, it would be a matter of pride to declare this high-profile project as built exclusively by union workers. In addition, the sheer size of the project would pour large amounts of money into union political operations via dues and employer payments to labor-management cooperation committees. It would help all unions in the region to accelerate the political conversion of Sacramento’s suburbs from Republican federal, state, and local representation to union-backed Democrat representation.

For more detail on this early stage of the fight for fair and open competition on a new Sacramento Kings arena, see The Union Quest for a Project Labor Agreement on a New Sacramento Kings Basketball Arena: Part One – 2006

An Attempt to Prohibit Project Labor Agreements in the City of Sacramento Fails

In 2011, a coalition of construction associations, taxpayer groups, and other business interests collected signatures on petitions for ballot measures to prohibit the County of Sacramento and the City of Sacramento from entering into contracts that required construction companies to sign Project Labor Agreements as a condition of work. Local governments throughout the state were adopting these “Fair and Open Competition” policies through voter initiatives or elected boards.

Unions responded with a massive radio advertising campaign to scare people into not signing petitions, along with relentless in-person harassment of signature gatherers and other antics to interfere with the campaign. Then they shoved a last-minute gut-and-amend bill through the California legislature (Senate Bill 922) that nullified all Fair and Open Competition charter provisions and ordinances for counties and general law cities. It also cut off state funding to charter cities that had such policies. Because Sacramento was a charter city, the Fair and Open Competition – Sacramento campaign continued to collect signatures for the city ordinance. It submitted petitions with a total number of signatures well over the amount needed, but the measure failed to qualify in January 2012 because an astonishing number of the signatures were not valid. Union leaders gloated.

The Way Is Clear for a Project Labor Agreement

With voters no longer a threat to the union goal to impose a Project Labor Agreement, plots could proceed. A March 2012 resolution for an arena deal with potential team owners (which subsequently derailed) had an unannounced and unexpected provision for a Project Labor Agreement and Community Benefit Agreement tacked on the end through a city councilmember’s amendment, with no opportunity for public comment. See Out of Nowhere: Project Labor Agreement and Community Benefit Agreement Tacked on End of Motion for New Sacramento Kings Basketball Arena.

A “Request For Proposal For Lead Contractor” issued on June 21, 2013 by a new set of team owners informed prospective respondents that “The Contractor shall also meet and negotiate with local labor regarding a possible Project Labor Agreement for the ESC,” that is, the “entertainment and sports center.” In addition, respondents are asked to “Please describe your experience, if any, with labor on construction projects in northern California including, without limitation, negotiations with labor and the results, the size of the project, and project labor agreements.”

Announcement of a Backroom Union Deal

The public relations firm told us to celebrate the Project Labor Agreement.

The public relations firm told us to celebrate the Project Labor Agreement.

On September 4, 2013, a public relations firm hired by the Sacramento Kings (Mercury Public Affairs) informed local news media with only a few hours notice about a press conference to announce a special deal with the Sacramento-Sierra’s Building and Construction Trades Council. This deal was the long-anticipated Project Labor Agreement.The press conference featured Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, top union officials, and top Kings team officials. Their consultants were even successful in “working on getting a few women there.” But also in attendance at the press conference were uninvited protesters from local non-union construction companies.

These opponents of the backroom union deal spoiled the visual impact by holding signs and banners on the balconies overlooking the atrium where the press conference was held. At the end of the official press conference, protesters then held their own impromptu press conference (using their opponents’ unsecured audio equipment) to condemn the Project Labor Agreement and call for the arena to be built instead in the suburbs, away from union influence and backroom deals. This high-profile celebration of union political power turned into a debacle.

Protest of Sacramento Kings Arena Project Labor Agreement - September 4, 2013

Following the press conference, non-union contractors circulated a memo entitled “Eight Steps to Possibly Alleviate Taxpayer and Contractor Outrage about the Backroom Deal for a Project Labor Agreement on Construction of the Sacramento Kings Arena.” Neither the Kings nor the City of Sacramento responded.

Motivation for the Backroom Union Deal

Although no one directly involved in the proposal, negotiation, or execution of the Project Labor Agreement has explicitly admitted it in public, most informed observers claim the union deal was mainly intended to neutralize the threat of construction unions exploiting the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to delay permitting for the arena through comments, appeals, and lawsuits. Political and business leaders recognized that construction trade unions in Sacramento routinely engage in “greenmail” to hold up projects until the developer provides economic concessions (usually a Project Labor Agreement). Some recent examples within the City of Sacramento included the Railyards project and the Greenbriar and Delta Shores developments.

Once unions had control of the arena construction work, their lobbyists at the state capitol had no objections when State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (who represents downtown Sacramento) pushed through a bill (Senate Bill 743) in the last days of the 2013 California legislative session. This bill provided special breaks under CEQA to the Kings arena to hinder the efforts of other interest groups to hold up the project with environmental objections.

Perhaps this scheme satisfied construction unions, but it did not discourage Unite Here Local No. 49 from submitting objections to the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Kings Arena. Nor did SB 743 discourage community organizations from submitting objections to the DEIR with the open intent of seeking a Community Benefit Agreement for the ancillary development around the arena.

Other parties even asserted in their DEIR comments that SB 743 was unconstitutional and that the arena did not actually qualify as a project under the criteria set in SB 743. If a court later agrees with these claims, a new environmental impact report will need to be drafted, and SB 743 will ironically end up jeopardizing the project altogether.

No Public Accountability or Transparency Allowed

To this day, the Sacramento City Council has never discussed or voted on the Project Labor Agreement. Even more offensive, the Project Labor Agreement has never been released for the public to review, despite Mayor Johnson citing the agreement in his State of the City address on February 12. Tweets from the State of the City event indicated that some people misheard Mayor Johnson claim that arena construction would employ “sex-offenders,” although the Project Labor Agreement apparently includes a provision to employ “ex-offenders.”

Rumors get started when backroom deals remain a secret even as they are promoted as policy accomplishments. Why is it so important to withhold this celebrated deal on a public works project from the people who will be paying for a majority of it, plus the interest on the money borrowed through the city’s sale of revenue bonds?

In addition to being an accomplishment of the city’s chief elected executive, the mysterious Project Labor Agreement has also become relevant for litigation in the state courts involving the city. The Sacramento-Sierra’s Building and Construction Trades Council cited the Project Labor Agreement as the basis for justifying its February 14, 2014 amicus brief in defense of the city’s decision not to qualify a ballot measure requiring voter approval of public subsidies for the arena.

A request to the City of Sacramento for the Project Labor Agreement under the authority of the California Public Records Act failed to produce it.

Cost Impact Is Likely But Not Acknowledged to Date

A non-binding term-sheet between the Kings and the City of Sacramento dated March 26, 2013 provides for a $258 million subsidy for the Entertainment and Sports Center. Under state law, this subsidy means that the arena is a public works project, and contractors would be required to pay prevailing wage rates based on union labor agreements.

The Project Labor Agreement will go beyond this wage requirement to cut bid competition and raise costs even further. As an additional contractual obligation, the Project Labor Agreement will require contractors to obtain workers from unions and pay fringe benefits and other payments into union trust funds.

Various studies, anecdotes, and common sense have suggested that Project Labor Agreements raise the cost of construction projects by about 15%. The March 26, 2013 non-binding term sheet for the arena stated a total cost of $447 million. Did that amount account for the reduction in bid competition resulting from a Project Labor Agreement mandate?

An Aggressive Response from Supporters of Fair and Open Competition

In Sacramento, non-union contractors dominate electrical work on public works and commercial construction. Knowing that public opinion in the City of Sacramento is strongly against providing $258 million in public funding to billionaire team owners and professional basketball players, a group of large Sacramento-based non-union contractors provided essential funding to a new organization (Voters for a Fair Arena Deal) created to finish collecting signatures on petitions to put a measure on the June ballot to require a citizen vote to authorize any public subsidies for entertainment and sports facilities.  Residents of the City of Sacramento await a judge’s ruling on whether they will get to vote in June on this ballot measure. (See “Voter Approval for Public Funding of Professional Sports Arena Act”)

On February 26, 2014, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge agreed with the City of Sacramento and ruled that petitions for a vote on public subsidies contained too many inconsistencies and interfered with the city’s charter authority. Citizens will not have a chance to vote on the public subsidy, whether it is $258 million or some other amount in the end. See the decision in Camacho v. Concolino.

Meanwhile, the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction is demanding that the Sacramento Kings ownership and the Sacramento-Sierra’s Building and Construction Trades Council immediately release to the public a copy of the alleged Project Labor Agreement for the proposed Kings Arena. It threatens to file a lawsuit against the City of Sacramento to get it.

Such a lawsuit could expose some embarrassing background about how and why unions obtained a monopoly on arena construction. In 2013, the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction sued the City of San Diego to obtain the San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion Project Labor Agreement, another Project Labor Agreement negotiated and executed in a secret backroom deal. In the process, the coalition obtained the actual union deal and the complete list of political payoffs to unions from the San Diego Mayor’s office.


Measuring the Cost of Project Labor Agreements on School Construction in California – study by National University System Institute for Policy Research in San Diego – July 2011

Proposed, Non-Binding Terms of a Potential Transaction – term sheet between the City of Sacramento and an investor group in order to retain the Sacramento Kings NBA basketball franchise and to develop a new Entertainment and Sports Center (ESC) in downtown Sacramento.

The Renaissance Report economic analysis of the impact of the new entertainment and sports center and related downtown development to Sacramento.

Mayor Kevin Johnson Announces Project Labor Agreement at September 4, 2013 Press Conference, Opposition Has One Too

Senate Bill 743 (2013)

Senate Bill 922 (2011)

Regional Sports and Entertainment Facilities in the Urban Core Attract Costly Political Meddling: Sacramento Kings as a Case Study – – December 16, 2013

September 4, 2013 Sacramento Kings Arena Project Labor Agreement Final Press Kit – “Great…let’s circulate to key folks.”

September 3, 2013 Sacramento Kings Arena Project Labor Agreement Press Conference – “working on getting a few women there” Re Labor Presser Check-In 

September 4, 2013 – Press Conference Announcing Project Labor Agreement for New Sacramento Kings Arena – Final Press Kit

Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction Calls for Public Access to Backroom Union Deal Imposed on Proposed Sacramento Kings Arena – Press Release – February 19, 2014

February 14, 2014 – Sacramento-Sierra Building and Construction Trades Council – Amicus Curiae – Kings Arena Vote

January 31, 2014 Unite Here Local 49 CEQA Comments – Sacramento Kings Arena Draft Environmental Impact Report

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.


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: ‘’; ‘’
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 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




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:

It’s Out in the Open: Project Labor Agreement a Costly Possibility for San Diego Convention Center Expansion – – 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 – – 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) – – September 20, 2012

Unions Threaten Environmental Litigation to Block San Diego Convention Center – – September 20, 2012

Union Officials Intimidate San Diego Civic Leaders – – September 20, 2012

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

Unions Get Control of San Diego Convention Center Expansion: CEQA Abuse Is Effective, Fair and Open Competition Ordinance Evaded – – 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 – – November 13, 2012

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

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

Where is the Project Labor Agreement for the San Diego Convention Center Expansion? A Press Conference Outlining an Action Plan – – 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) – – February 18, 2013

Persistent Pressure Compels San Diego to Spit Out Project Labor Agreement – – 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 Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.

Unions Creep Closer to Monopolizing California High-Speed Rail Construction

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

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

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

California High Speed Rail Project Labor Agreement Mandate - Section 10.1

California High Speed Rail Project Labor Agreement Mandate – Section 10.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Dayton is the President and CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at

When Union Officials Hold Office: An Infected Community College Board

In December 1997, the AFL-CIO implemented its “2000 in 2000” program to help elect union activists to public office. As the AFL-CIO reported in February 1999, “In 1998, we made progress toward our goal of putting 2,000 union members on the ballot in the year 2000. Over the next two years we will make a substantial effort to recruit, train, and assist union members running for office.”

Following that election, the AFL-CIO declared the 2000 in 2000 program as a success, with over 2500 union members holding elected office. It’s unclear if these union members were elected for the first time in 2000, or if the AFL-CIO simply managed to discover through surveys that more than 2500 union members were already in office.

It then launched the “Target 5000” program to get 5000 union members into elected office in 2002. The lack of triumphant AFL-CIO press releases about this program suggests it never achieved the goal of 5000 public office holders, but the dream of Target 5000 persisted at least through the 2004 elections. It is still referenced on web pages of the Massachusetts and Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.

In California, union officials are routinely elected to the California State Legislature and local government boards in the state’s major metropolitan areas. Union officials in elected office are particularly prevalent in Los Angeles, where Miguel Contreras improved the effectiveness of local election involvement of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO during his leadership from the mid-1990s through 2005.

Sometimes the union presence on elected boards is outrageously brazen. For example, the chairman of the board of the John Swett Unified School District (in the San Francisco Bay Area) presided over a February 10, 2009 vote for a Project Labor Agreement on future John Swett district school construction while wearing a T-shirt representing his employer, the Ironworkers Local Union No. 378. The chairman threatened to have police remove a man and a woman from the board room when they complained from the audience that he was applying a strict three-minute time limit on speakers opposed to the labor agreement, but allowing speakers in favor of the labor agreement to speak without a time limit. (In response, they walked out voluntarily.)

Other times, public exposure can at least compel a union official not to vote with self-interest on union-related business, such as when a board member recused himself from a vote for a Project Labor Agreement at the Contra Costa Community College District after the public revealed he had failed to submit his legally-required statement of economic interests and then failed to report income from his union employer. (See the October 15, 2012 article Unions Increase Control of California’s Community College Boards).

The latest controversy at a California local government related to a union official on an elected board is at the Allan Hancock Joint Community College District in Santa Barbara County. In November 2004, the business representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local Union No. 413 in Santa Barbara County was elected to the Allan Hancock College board of trustees.

Electrical contractors with employees not in a union have experienced continual difficulties bidding on college construction projects since his election. This shouldn’t be a surprise, considering an explicit objective on the home page of the IBEW Local Union No. 413 is “to organize all workers in the entire electrical industry…including all those in public utilities and electrical manufacturing, into local unions.”

Because many California electricians choose not to belong to a union and have the requisite work experience and test scores to obtain their state electrician certification, the IBEW Local Union No. 413 needs to pursue this objective by using the coercive power of government to restrict competitive bidding. Here’s a compilation of antics concerning taxpayer-funded construction at Allan Hancock College since November 2004, complete with documentation when available: 

January 2006: Contractor associations learned through inside sources that someone was agitating for the Allan Hancock College board of trustees to require its construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the Tri-County Building and Construction Trades Council. Contractors and organizations provided arguments to the college district against the proposal, and it did not come up for a vote.

December 2009: Shortly before a bid deadline, Allan Hancock College issued an addendum to bid specifications for the One-Stop Student Services Center. The addendum added “Enhanced Safety Requirements” that required 75 percent of the workforce of the general contractor and all subcontractors to be graduates of a California state-approved apprenticeship program. This was aimed at hindering bids from construction companies whose employees learned their trade and/or obtained state certification outside of the union training model.

Local contractors were incensed. Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of California coordinated with the Santa Maria Valley Contractors Association and the Western Electrical Contractors Association (WECA) to ask the college to extend the bid deadline and remove the “enhanced safety requirements” through a new addendum. College officials acknowledged the requirement was inappropriate and promptly issued an addendum removing the union-backed requirement and extending the bid deadline.

December 2010: At the direction of the IBEW board member at the November 16 meeting, the Allan Hancock College board of trustees held a “special meeting” on December 7 featuring a “Local Hire Preference Workshop” leading up to a vote at the December 14 meeting.  The workshop was intended to be “an exploration into a local preference hiring policy for capital construction projects,” but strangely the “exploration” did not include an invitation to contractors or contractor associations for participation. Nevertheless, contractors caught onto the plot, and representatives of the Santa Maria Valley Contractors Association and the San Luis Obispo County Builders Exchange spoke against the proposal in opposition to union officials supporting the proposal during public comment. One board member had warned the IBEW board member at the November 16 meeting that his occupation might create a conflict-of-interest, so people were aware that unions were behind the proposal. When the IBEW board member made a motion to approve the policy at the December 14 meeting, no one seconded the motion, and it failed.

See Labor Agreements Explored at Hancock Workshop – Santa Maria Times – December 8, 2012

The policy was similar to a policy previously proposed by the IBEW Union Local No. 413 to the California Space Authority (based in Santa Maria) and to the City of Lompoc. In addition, the Tri-County Building and Construction Trades Council was pushing at this time for an alleged local hiring policy (a “Local Jobs Construction Stabilization Agreement”) at the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors that was in reality an ordinary Project Labor Agreement. As shown in its December 2010 newsletter, the IBEW was concerned that non-union electrical contractors were winning numerous public works contracts in the Central Coast counties of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

October 2012: Allan Hancock College advertised for bids on Building “D” Repairs and Upgrades. Bid specifications included a requirement that any electrical installation worker on the job “must have completed an indentured IBEW/NECA apprenticeship program” (that is, a training program operated by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union).

Contractor representatives from the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), and the Western Electrical Contractors Association (WECA) objected via email to the union-only requirement and pointed out that it was unfair and illegal, but the college did not rescind the requirement. Here is how a college official explained the situation:

The District takes considerable care to establish requirements for the District’s construction projects that reflect the needs of each project and which incorporate requirements consistent with applicable law. Underlying this approach by the District are principles of fair and equal bidding opportunities for all prospective bidders, regardless of a bidder’s union or non-union affiliation.

The District was not aware of the restrictive electrician apprenticeship requirement incorporated into the specifications for the Building D Repairs and Upgrades Project until the issue was brought to the attention of the District on October 10, 2012. The District could not take the action requested by ABC in its October 10, 2012, communications (amendment of the specifications provisions limiting acceptable electrical apprenticeship programs) because those communications were sent and received after the opening of Bid Proposals on October 9, 2012.

District staff forwarded the October 10, 2012 ABC letter to counsel for review and response, including discussions with the Project architect and the architect’s electrical engineering consultant. Through that evaluation process and communications with the project design professionals who prepared the specifications, District staff and counsel concluded Monday afternoon that the specifications provision was unduly restrictive and that the restriction on acceptable electrical apprenticeship programs was inconsistent with applicable law. With that conclusion, District staff and counsel determined that the appropriate and proper action is to amend the recommendation for award of the contract for the Project. Rather, an amended recommendation will be presented to the Board of Trustees at the meeting tonight to the effect that: (i) the original bidding process incorporated a flawed electrical apprenticeship provision; (ii) the Board should take action rejecting all Bid Proposals; and (iii) District staff be authorized to re-bid the Project after correcting the electrical apprenticeship provision.

At the October 16 board meeting, a representative of the Western Electrical Contractors Association (WECA) asked the board to rebid the project without the union requirement that prevented electrical subcontractors from participating in the bidding. This request upset the board, as well as the contractor with the winning bid (the contractor incorporated a union electrical subcontractor). There was even a veiled threat that the board would impose a Project Labor Agreement on future construction if non-union contractors continued to hassle the college. Ultimately, the board gave college staff authorization to proceed with awarding the bid, unless one of the contractors’ associations refused to be understanding of the mistake and submitted an official objection.

First time fool me, shame on you – second time fool me, shame on me. Would an established business organization have the courage to refuse to play along and instead insist on what is right and fair? Yes! On October 24, 2012, WECA submitted its formal written objection against Allan Hancock College awarding the bid with the IBEW requirement in the specifications.

Obviously, the public will need to perpetually monitor the board agendas and the bid specifications for contracts at Allan Hancock College, as long as someone on the board holds a vocational goal “to organize all workers in the entire electrical industry… into local unions.” As the AFL-CIO intended through the “2000 in 2000” and “Target 5000” programs, that board member is merely doing his job for his union. Meanwhile, the people need to do their job of seeing their interests properly represented at their own community college district.

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

Mailers Expose Union CEQA “Greenmail” Against Solar Developers

Finally, ordinary citizens in the San Joaquin Valley learn how construction trade unions block solar power plant projects by exploiting the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Residents of Kings County (in the San Joaquin Valley of California) see local opportunities for economic growth and job creation through the construction and operation of proposed solar-powered electrical generation facilities. At the same time, local residents worry about the possibility that out-of-town developers could build or partially build these solar power facilities on former farmland but then abandon them to rust if solar energy turns out not to be profitable.

This is why the Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow (ACT), a project of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction (CFEC), mailed 10,000 educational pieces this week to Kings County households informing them that construction trade unions are abusing the the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to grab control of solar power construction jobs, in the process increasing costs of construction and risking the economic viability of solar energy generation in the San Joaquin Valley.

According to union front groups such as California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE), the construction and operation of a solar-powered electrical generating facility has the potential to devastate the environment; that is, until the developer agrees to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions.

In a press release issued today (September 25, 2012), the Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow reported that it intended to make 10,000 Kings County households aware of the epidemic of union “greenmail” against renewable energy projects in the San Joaquin Valley – and specifically against Recurrent Energy‘s Mustang Solar Generation Project in Kings County.

Groups such as California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local No. 100 in Fresno exploit the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and other environmental laws to delay proposed projects. Their objective is to coerce developers to hand over monopoly control of the construction to unions through a Project Labor Agreement. The CEQA abuse racket is called “greenmail,” and it is rampant throughout California.

A San Francisco-based company, Recurrent Energy, succumbed to the union CEQA threats and signed a Project Labor Agreement for construction of the Mustang Solar Generation Project in Kings County.

Eric Christen, executive director of the Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow, says the following in the September 25, 2012 press release:

For too long, construction unions have claimed, with a straight face, that solar power is bad for the environment. It’s as shameless as it is absurd. The unions block or threaten to block solar power projects using the California Environmental Quality Act – commonly known as CEQA – until the developer surrenders to the unions and agrees to sign a Project Labor Agreement (PLA). This is exactly what happened on the 160 megawatt solar power plant in Lemoore called the Mustang Solar Generation Project.

The press release also outlines the details of how greenmail works.

The Kings County Planning Commission had received this letter from CURE when Recurrent (Energy) first made its plans known for a Kings County project. Like rain in springtime, these implicitly threatening letters appear like clockwork as soon as a project is announced anywhere in California…The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 100 has a long history of hiring the law firm of Adams, Broadwell, Joseph & Cardozo out of South San Francisco to dig up alleged environmental problems with solar projects. One of the most prominent was the Fresno Airport Parking solar project in 2007.

Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo is cited in the Project Labor Agreement for the Mustang Solar Generation Project.

The press release concludes with the motivation for sending the mailers:

We’re going to make sure that Kings County residents and the people of California and the San Joaquin Valley know why solar power plants are so expensive, why they are taking so long to build, and why local workers don’t get to build them,” Christen added.

When will the California State Legislature reform CEQA to stop this? The Fresno Bee published an editorial on Sunday, August 5, 2012 calling for Governor Jerry Brown to take a leadership role in reforming CEQA so that unions can’t exploit it to coerce Project Labor Agreements from developers. See “EDITORIAL: Governor Again Moves Toward Needed CEQA Reform Steps – Changes to the State Law Should Be Vetted and Discussed by All Parties” – Fresno Bee – August 5, 2012.

The editorial states the following:

Brown recently has been dropping hints he is open to a significant reform of the law. It’s clearly needed, and we hope this isn’t another instance of him shooting off his mouth. California needs significant CEQA reform.

CEQA is being abused, and defenders of the law get defensive whenever anyone suggests it. The most pernicious abuse is known as “greenmail,” with groups threatening CEQA lawsuits to get labor concessions or other side deals.

Real Reform of CEQA to Stop Union Greenmail Will Be an Uphill Battle

Setting aside the last-minute proposed Sustainable Environmental Protection Act of 2012 (which was never formally introduced and probably would have little effect in stopping greenmail), the California State Legislature considered one bill in 2012 to significantly reform CEQA. On January 9, 2012, the Assembly Natural Resources Committee considered a bill introduced by Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) – Assembly Bill 598 – which would have given the California Attorney General the exclusive authority to file or maintain a lawsuit alleging that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), negative declaration, or mitigated negative declaration does not comply with CEQA.

The committee rejected the bill on a 6-3 party-line vote, with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed. The hearing was an opportunity for the committee to discuss how certain parties, particularly labor unions, exploit public participation in the CEQA process to achieve objectives unrelated to environmental protection.

Assemblywoman Grove cited four specific examples of different unions (the Teamsters, the California Nurses Association, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and the Service Employees International Union) filing CEQA lawsuits to delay projects as leverage to extract labor concessions from businesses:

  • In 2011, the Teamsters union filed a CEQA lawsuit against VWR International, a distributor of laboratory supplies. The union, in an attempt to intimidate VWR International into signing a union labor agreement at a proposed new facility in Visalia, is using CEQA to allege that trucks entering and exiting the facility will harm the environment. This large facility is likely to employ more than 100 people in a county that has an unemployment rate over 15% and desperately needs jobs, yet there are truckers trying to stop the use of trucks! And this is after an EIR has already been approved for the process.
  • In 2009, the California Nurses Association sued Alameda County under the pretense that the county did not comply with CEQA in approving a project to demolish the deficient Eden Medical Center Hospital and other buildings and replace them with a new state of the art hospital and medical office complex. The nurses’ union did not want Sutter Health to close the San Leandro Hospital and reduce the number of beds at the Eden Medical Center. Here we see nurses protesting against a state-of-the-art new hospital.
  • The Service Employees International Union filed a CEQA lawsuit in 2007 to stop construction of Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills and a CEQA lawsuit in 2006 to stop construction of Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento. Both of these lawsuits occurred in the context of SEIU organizing campaigns.
  • The United Food and Commercial Workers Union has been behind numerous CEQA lawsuits filed by a Davis lawyer against proposed Wal-Mart projects in Northern California. These lawsuits are related to unions concerns over non-signatory competition for grocery sales.

Testifying on behalf of my former employer (Associated Builders and Contractors of California), I discussed how certain construction trade unions abuse CEQA as a weapon to delay projects until the owner agrees to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions. The Western Electrical Contractors Association (WECA) and the Chambers of Commerce Alliance of Ventura & Santa Barbara were the other public supporters of the bill.

Assemblywoman Linda Halderman (R-Fresno) cited the specific example of a union using CEQA to try to force a contractor to sign a Project Labor Agreement to install solar panels at Fresno-Yosemite International Airport. Assemblyman Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) adeptly exposed the Attorney General’s double standard of opposing the additional responsibilities assigned in AB 598 while remaining silent about adopting additional responsibilities through other legislation.

Legitimate environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Planning and Conservation League opposed the bill. The Teamsters and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union opposed the bill in writing but did not speak at the hearing. Democrats on the committee opposed the bill, but some of them (along with the Attorney General’s office) acknowledged that some parties abuse CEQA. Assemblyman Bill Monning (D-Santa Cruz) said nothing about how the Carpenters union used CEQA in a recent high-profile campaign to delay and ultimately derail the proposed La Bahia Hotel in Santa Cruz.

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