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Citizen Awareness Stops Project Labor Agreement in Orange County, California

Stopping the union political agenda on the state and local level in California entails the grinding, boring mundanity of ordinary grassroots organizing. It’s unglamorous. It’s not financially rewarding. And it certainly doesn’t enhance the professional or community reputation of anyone doing it.

But it often works, as shown on May 15, 2013, when the elected board of trustees of the Coast Community College District in Orange County voted 3-2 to reject a proposed union Project Labor Agreement.

In November 2012, 57.2% of voters in the Coast Community College District approved Measure M, which authorized the college district to borrow $698 million for construction by selling bonds to investors. (Under the conditions of Proposition 39 approved by California voters in 2000, these bond sales won approval with 55% – not 66.67% – of the vote.)

In total, the construction program at the Coast Community College District will be $1.5 billion when state matching grants (also funded through bond sales) and other sources of funding are added. That’s a lot of responsibility for an elected community college board whose members are generally unknown to the public and get virtually no press coverage of their meetings and decisions.

Residents of this college district are relatively educated, affluent, and engaged in their communities: the district includes Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Seal Beach, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Westminster, and part of Garden Grove. Nevertheless, few people – including the local news media – were paying much attention to this bond measure and the activities of the elected college board of trustees who would oversee it.

Jim Moreno wants to give away $100 million to unions – YouTube

With one of the Democrat board members (Jim Moreno) considering a campaign to run for the Orange County Board of Supervisors in 2014, and only one Republican among the five board members, perhaps this district should have been regarded as a target for union infiltration. As it turned out, the Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council was very interested in this college and its $1.5 billion in upcoming construction work.

After voters approved Measure M, construction union lobbyists began quietly working behind the scenes to get the college to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of working on college construction projects. Two successive board agendas included discussion of the proposal, which was cleverly disguised as a innocuous-sounding “Continuity of Work Agreement.”

It’s possible the Coast Community College District would have ended up adopting a Project Labor Agreement if someone hadn’t snickered at the phony “Continuity of Work Agreement” now in place at the Pasadena Unified School District and decided to initiate a web search to see if unions were using this deceptive euphemism for Project Labor Agreements anywhere else in California. The web search pulled up meeting agendas for the board of trustees of the Coast Community College District. Meeting minutes revealed that union officials and their two political sycophants on the board of trustees (Jim Moreno and Jerry Patterson) were aggressively pushing for the college district to impose this costly union monopoly on its construction program. At the same time, no one was providing any opposing viewpoints during public comments or in written material.

How could this union plot be stopped with such late notice? Local opponents of Project Labor Agreements realized that a solid majority of voters in this college district support fair and open bid competition and oppose costly union monopolies on taxpayer-funded construction projects. In addition, opponents recognized that voters would have handily rejected Measure M if the college had admitted before the election that it planned to mandate a Project Labor Agreement. After all, it barely won.

For opponents, stopping the advancing union proposal focused on alerting the public that union lobbyists were trying to get control of the work through special favors from their friends in government. The obscure Coast Community College District board of trustees needed to become accountable to the public instead of union officials. This strategy was quickly implemented:

  1. Door-to-Door Education of Voters: Young Republican activists distributed flyers to voters exposing the two elected board members pushing the Project Labor Agreement on behalf of unions and at the expense of taxpayers. These flyers greatly agitated the two board members, who apparently never expected the public to hold them responsible for pushing a costly union sweetheart deal.
  2. Phone Calls to Educate Voters: Voters received phone calls informing them about the two elected board members pushing the Project Labor Agreement on behalf of unions and at the expense of taxpayers.
  3. Traditional News Media: Through articles, editorials, letters to the editor, and op-ed commentaries, local newspapers informed readers about what their elected college officials were planning to do with their tax money.
  4. Web-Based News Media: Local and state political news blogs and other web sites with an orientation toward principles of economic freedom highlighted what was happening.
  5. Social Media: Emails and other more traditional forms of communication circulated among political activists supportive of fiscal responsibility and economic freedom. A YouTube video was posted. A few political activists used Twitter to notify the public about the board’s consideration of a Project Labor Agreement.
  6. Civic Leadership: A few courageous local elected officials (such as Huntington Beach City Councilmember Matt Harper) risked stirring up union ire by speaking out publicly against the Project Labor Agreement. The Orange County Business Council also opposed the Project Labor Agreement.
  7. Taxpayer Groups: The Orange County Taxpayers Association was particularly outraged about the proposed Project Labor Agreement, because this group had endorsed Measure M based in part on a commitment from the college that it would not require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of work. The credibility of the Orange County Taxpayers Association as a watchdog group for taxpayers was in jeopardy, and the group made sure the college and its elected board of trustees were made accountable for their plan to renege on their election season pledge. The Costa Mesa Taxpayers Association also opposed the Project Labor Agreement.
  8. Business Groups: the Southern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) organized local construction companies to oppose the proposed Project Labor Agreement and ensured that opposing viewpoints were presented at board meetings. Other construction associations also opposed the Project Labor Agreement with written material and public statements.
  9. Political Groups: the Newport Mesa Tea Party recognized the proposed Project Labor Agreement as an attack on fiscal responsibility. It issued a press release against the proposal, and members spoke out against it at the May 15 board meeting in defiance of a room full of union officials.
  10. Student Groups: student governmental groups and the student representative to the college board of trustees opposed the Project Labor Agreement. They didn’t like how professional union operatives were interfering with a construction program meant to provide students with better facilities.

As voters in the district learned about the plot for a union Project Labor Agreement, this quiet community college became mired in a well-publicized political controversy that distracted from its mission to provide a quality education to its students. Three of the five board members decided to resist the unnecessary, costly, union-driven contracting mandate. Surely public awareness and rejection of the Project Labor Agreement provided extra confidence for board members to take a position against an aggressive special interest group.

The Coast Community College District victory should inspire Californians concerned about inappropriate union political power in their community. You can make a difference:

  1. Monitor the meeting agendas and meeting minutes of some of your obscure local governments.
  2. Become familiar with the business of these local governments and identify and track the organizations and individuals that influence it.
  3. Become familiar with the elected and appointed officials who run these local governments, including their styles and their motivations.
  4. Encourage capable and qualified individuals to run for elected office in these local governments.

Where there is a political vacuum, unions will fill it. Prudent, responsible citizens need to consider becoming future candidates to serve the people on the elected boards of community colleges and other local governments.

News Coverage of Vote

College Board Refuses to Draft Labor Agreement: Trustees say Measure M bond would not have passed if so-called PLAs were part of the deal – Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot – May 16, 2013

Coast College District Rejects Union-Hiring Agreement for $689M Upcoming Work – via Engineering News-Record California – May 17, 2013, originally published in Orange County Register as Coast College District Rejects Union-Hiring Agreement – May 16, 2013

Coast Community College District Project Labor Agreement Defeated! – OC Politics Blog – May 15, 2013

Associated Builders and Contractors Defeat Union Discrimination On Largest California Community College Bond Passed in 2012 – www.OCPolitical.com – May 16, 2013

News Coverage Leading Up to Vote

Coast Trustees to Consider Union Construction Deal – Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot – May 13, 2013

Tea Party Objects to Proposed College-Union Pact – Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot – May 14, 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.

Election Gains for California Unions in 2012 Drive Push for Project Labor Agreements

The explosion of Project Labor Agreements on government projects in California since the November 6 elections is not surprising to long-time observers of labor union initiatives at local governments.

In the six months after the November 2008 Presidential Election, emboldened and confident construction trade unions won Project Labor Agreements at eleven local governments in California. It was a dramatic upsurge from the usual handful of Project Labor Agreements that California local governments had considered each year.

Four years later, the November 2012 Presidential Election once again expanded and solidified gains for union-backed candidates at local governments in California. And again, the result is a flurry of new government requirements that construction companies sign Project Labor Agreements with unions as a condition of contract work. Here’s a timeline of Project Labor Agreement activity in California since November 6.

November 6: voter approval of Proposition Z means that the San Diego Unified School District extends an existing Project Labor Agreement with the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council to construction funded by an additional $2.8 billion in bond sales, as directed by a resolution passed by the board of directors on July 24, 2012.

November 8: union officials and representatives of the outgoing Mayor of San Diego triumphantly announce a “deal” that ends union environmental objections to the planned San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion. A November 15 press release from the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council confirms that contractors will now be required to sign a Project Labor Agreement as a condition of working on the expansion. The City of San Diego refuses to provide the Project Labor Agreement to the public.

December 11: the board of trustees for Milpitas Unified School District approves a Project Labor Agreement with the Santa Clara and San Benito Building and Construction Trades Council.

December 26: a Project Labor Agreement is finalized and then added as Addendum 8 to the bid specifications for the first construction segment of California High-Speed Rail, without discussion or a vote by the High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors.

January 24: the board of trustees of Coast Community College District in Orange County discusses a Project Labor Agreement with the Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council.

February 6: the board of trustees of the Solano Community College District hears a scheduled staff presentation about a Project Labor Agreement with the Napa-Solano Building and Construction Trades Council.

February 6: the board of trustees of Coast Community College District hears a scheduled staff presentation about a Project Labor Agreement with the Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council. The board appoints a task force to study the issue and return with a report.

February 12: the board of trustees for Lynwood Unified School District approves a Project Labor Agreement with the Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council.

February 13: the board of trustees for Ohlone Community College District in Fremont approves a Project Labor Agreement with the Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council.

March 6: the board of trustees of Solano Community College District hears formal scheduled presentations from groups supporting and opposing a Project Labor Agreement.

March 6: the board of trustees for El Monte Union High School District votes 3-2 to table consideration of a Project Labor Agreement negotiated with the Los Angeles and Orange Counties Building and Construction Trade Council.

March 6: multiple speakers tell the board of trustees of Coast Community College District during general public comment that they oppose a proposed Project Labor Agreement with the Los Angeles and Orange Counties Building and Construction Trade Council.

March 12: the board of trustees for San Francisco Unified School District directs staff to develop a local contracting and hiring policy to include in a planned Project Labor Agreement with the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council.

March 19: the board of trustees for Hartnell Community College District in Salinas discusses a Project Labor Agreement with the Monterey/Santa Cruz Building and Construction Trades Council.

March 19: the El Monte City Council approves a Project Labor Agreement with the Los Angeles and Orange County Building Trades Council.

April 1: the board of trustees for Rancho Santiago Community College District votes 5-2 to begin negotiations for a Project Labor Agreement with the Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council.

April 3: the board of trustees of Coast Community College District again discusses a Project Labor Agreement with the Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council. On a 3-2 vote, the board rejects a proposal to begin negotiating a Project Labor Agreement with union representatives and again instructs the task force to study the issue and return with a report.

April 8: the Pasadena City Council approves negotiations for a Project Labor Agreement on the Glenarm Power Plant Repowering Project with the State Building and Construction Trades Council and the Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council.

April 9: the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors establishes a Project Labor Agreement Ad-hoc Committee based on a priority set by the board at its February 8 strategic planning session to consider a Project Labor Agreement policy with the Sonoma, Lake & Mendocino Counties Building and Construction Trades Council.

April 10: the board of trustees for El Monte Union High School District pulls from their meeting agenda a scheduled vote on a Project Labor Agreement negotiated with the Los Angeles and Orange Counties Building and Construction Trade Council.

April 16: the American Canyon City Council holds a “study session” on a Project Labor Agreement with the Napa-Solano Building and Construction Trades Council.

April 16: the board of trustees for the College of Marin approves the expansion of its existing Project Labor Agreement with the Marin Building and Construction Trades Council to include the New Academic Center. The board also holds a “study session” on Project Labor Agreements.

April 23: in response to a lawsuit, the City of San Diego provides the public with a copy of the Project Labor Agreement announced in November 2012 for the San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion.

April 23: the board of trustees for the San Francisco Unified School District approves a local contracting and hiring policy to include in a planned Project Labor Agreement with the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council.

April 29: the public obtains records indicating that the Mayor of the City of Fresno asked the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to approve a targeted hiring policy for California High-Speed Rail included in the context of a Project Labor Agreement.

April 30: a task force at Coast Community College District votes to recommend to the full board of trustees that it not require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council.

May 7: the board of trustees for Hartnell Community College District in Salinas votes 4-3 to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement with the Monterey/Santa Cruz Building and Construction Trades Council.

Union officials supporting a Project Labor Agreement get ready for the May 7, 2013 meeting of the Hartnell Community College District board of trustees. "P.L.A. Yes!"

Union officials supporting a Project Labor Agreement get ready for the May 7, 2013 meeting of the Hartnell Community College District board of trustees. “P.L.A. Yes!”


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.

Orange County Project Labor Agreements: One Advances, One Gets Jammed

Within three days last week, elected boards of two of the four community college districts in Orange County, California voted on proposals to require their construction contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with construction trade unions as a condition of work.

1. Rancho Santiago Community College District: Anaheim Hills, Garden Grove, Irvine, Orange, Santa Ana, Tustin and Villa Park

On April 1, 2013, the elected board of the Rancho Santiago Community College District voted 5-2 for the district to begin negotiations with the Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council for a Project Labor Agreement. Construction companies and their trade associations will not be invited to participate in the negotiations, but companies will be required to sign the final union agreement in order to perform contract work.

The Project Labor Agreement will apply to contracts funded by $198 million borrowed through bond sales authorized by Measure Q, approved by 72.6% of district voters in November 2012. This $198 million figure does not include state matching grants and interest paid to bond investors. Neither the official voter ballot information nor campaign material indicated any plans to require contractors to sign a union agreement as a condition of work.

Voting for the union negotiations was board member José Solorio, who reportedly plans to run in 2014 for an open seat in the 34th State Senate District, possibly against Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen, who voted in 2009 to ban Project Labor Agreements as a condition of winning Orange County contracts.

Opposing the Project Labor Agreement were board members Phil Yarbrough, who is a Republican, and Arianna Barrios, who is not registered with a party. The five Democrats on the board (José Solorio, Larry Labrado, Claudia Alvarez, John Hanna, and Nelida Mendoza) voted for it.

2. Coast Community College District: Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Midway City, Newport Beach, Seal Beach, Stanton, Sunset Beach, and Westminster

On April 3, 2013, the elected board of the Coast Community College District voted 3-2 for a task force to continue evaluating positive and negative implications of requiring contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council. A directive to begin negotiations with the unions was made and seconded, but was then withdrawn when it was clear that a majority vote was lacking.

Union lobbyists want construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement in order to perform contract work funded by $698 million borrowed through bond sales authorized by Measure M, approved by 57.2% of voters in November 2012. Neither the official voter ballot information nor campaign material indicated any plans to require contractors to sign a union agreement as a condition of work. In fact, school district administrators informed the Orange County Taxpayers Association via an email during the campaign that the college district would not require its contractors to sign a union Project Labor Agreement.

The total construction program, including state matching grants and other funding sources, is $957 million. This figure does not include interest paid to bond investors.

Board members Jim Moreno and Jerry Patterson aggressively pushed for the Project Labor Agreement. They are both Democrats. Jim Moreno is considering a campaign in 2014 for a seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

Board members Lorraine Prinsky and David Grant (Democrats) and Mary Hornbuckle (the one Republican on the board) rejected the motion for negotiations and voted for a task force to evaluate the proposal and return with a report.

A Bit of Hope for California’s Future: At both community college districts, the student trustees on the board voted AGAINST the faction pushing for a union Project Labor Agreement. Ryan Ahari was a NO vote at the Rancho Santiago Community College District and Kolby Keo was a YES vote at the Coast Community College District. Student trustees generally aren’t beholden to unions to advance their political careers, so they can make the correct decision to seek the best quality construction at the best price for the benefit of students.

News Coverage

Will the RSCCD Trustees vote for a union-only PLA on Measure Q projects?www.NewSantaAna.com – December 3, 2012

College district caught in labor agreement fightNewport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot – March 7, 2013

Pugnacious Defense of Economic Freedom in Orange County Can Inspire California’s Free-Market Activistswww.FlashReport.org – March 11, 2012

College district changes its tuneOrange County Register (op-ed by Orange County Taxpayers Association President & CEO Carolyn Cavecche) – March 28, 2013  (note: paywall in effect)

Bond betrayal: Did college district dupe OC Tax on PLA?www.CalWatchdog.com – March 29, 2013

The RSCCD Trustees are for a Measure Q union-only PLA tonightwww.NewSantaAna.com – April 1, 2013

Jose Solorio gives Janet Nguyen an early Christmas present  – www.NewSantaAna.com – April 2, 2013

Union-only O.C. hiring pacts raise alarmsOrange County Register – April 3, 2013 (note: paywall in effect)

Playing fair means no PLAOrange County Register (editorial) – April 3, 2013 (note: paywall in effect)

PLAs bad for taxpayers, competitionOrange County Register (op-ed by Rancho Santiago Community College board member Phillip Yarbrough) – April 3, 2013  (note: paywall in effect)

Jim Moreno wants to give away $100 million to unions – example of recorded call to Coast Community College District voters – April 3, 2013

Coast district delays decision on union-only labor pactOrange County Register – April 4, 2013 (note: paywall in effect)

No pro-union pact at CCCD: Bond measure floated on promise not to seek PLAOrange County Register (editorial) – April 4, 2013 (note: paywall in effect)

How union only project labor agreements rip off the taxpayerswww.NewSantaAna.com – April 3, 2013

Coast Community stymied on labor agreementNewport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot – April 5, 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.