Construction Unions Dominate a Marin County Bond Measure Campaign

Construction trade unions in California are likely to be celebrating on November 3, 2015 as voters approve another set of local school bond measures and launch another round of taxing, borrowing, and spending.

Eight school districts in California are asking voters to approve a total of nine bond measures for school facilities construction on the November ballot. These proposals would authorize school districts to borrow money for facilities construction by selling bonds to investors. It would not be unreasonable to predict that voters will approve all nine bond measures.

Two of the nine bond measures are on the ballot for voters in and around the City of San Rafael, in Marin County. San Rafael City Schools is asking permission from voters to borrow $108 for the elementary school district and $161 for the high school district, for a total of $269 million. The district is assuming future enrollment growth and projecting continued increases in assessed property valuation. It has current debt service of $177 million in outstanding principal and interest accumulated from previous bond measures.

San Rafael City Schools Bond History

Pay-to-Play and Other Entanglements

Firms that won district contracts related to preparing the bond measure are involved in the campaign. In a typical example of so-called “pay-to-play” contracts for bond measures,  a financial advisory firm obtained a no-bid contract from the district in June for $15,000 in pre-election and $65,000 in post-election bond advisory services. It has contributed $9500 to the campaign. A consulting firm that won a contract from the district to perform a “Bond Feasibility Survey” for the bond measures – and found the bond measures to be feasible – has earned $13,507 from the campaign. Another firm involved in the feasibility survey has contributed to the campaign. In addition, a public relations consultant who was involved with the feasibility survey is working for the campaign and has received $7,500 so far (see below).

Construction Trade Unions Have Dominated the Campaign to Pass the Bond Measure

Construction unions have directly contributed $31,000 of the $90,950 in reported contributions through October 26, 2015 to the campaign to pass Measures A and B. That is 34% of the total. (See the chart at the end of this article.) Unions had contributed $20,000 of the first $30,000 raised by the campaign, thus supplying valuable seed money for operations.San Rafael City Schools Phone Bank

A Carpenters Union hall is the site of the campaign phone bank. Services from the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council to the campaign are reported through October 17, 2015 as an in-kind contribution of $10,034.

A public relations consultant who used to be the Director of Public and Governmental Relations for the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council has been paid $7500 through October 17, 2015 for campaign-related work. This consultant was also involved in the feasibility study.

There Is No Organized Opposition

No one submitted an argument in opposition to the bond measures, so the Official Voter Guide only includes arguments in support. No one has filed papers with the California Fair Political Practices Commission or the County of Marin to establish an opposition campaign fund. The Marin United Taxpayers Association appears to be dormant on this issue. However, at least a handful of individual informed citizens are vehemently opposed to the bond measures, as shown in posted comments in response to Marin Independent-Journal newspaper articles and an editorial endorsing the bond measures.

The Likely Outcome

Deprived of an opposing perspective, voters in this area of Marin County will likely approve both bond measures at a percentage well above the 55% needed for passage. Then, because of the extensive involvement of construction trade unions in the campaign, the school board will likely vote soon after the election to require construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of performing under a contract funded by the bond measures. That union monopoly on construction may cost taxpayers an extra $25-40 million, but with $269 million authorized to borrow and pay back over the next 30-40 years, who’s worried about it today?Donors to Measures A and B San Rafael City Schools - Top Donors as of October 26, 2015Donors to Measures A and B San Rafael City Schools - Other Donors as of October 26, 2015

Source of Contribution Information: Form 460s and Form 497s for Committee For Strong San Rafael Schools – Yes on A&B

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.


Public Sector Environmentalists vs. Jobs

On October 24th I observed in the WSJ that private and public unions were increasingly in conflict this election season, particularly as left-leaning public union leaders align with members of the Democratic coalition like environmentalists, whose no-growth economic policies cost blue-collar workers jobs. One example I didn’t discuss in that piece is a campaign transpiring in California, where one of the state’s major public unions has joined with environmentalists to oppose a water bond that blue-collar labor groups have allied with business concerns to pass.

Proposition 1 is hardly an ideal infrastructure spending plan. It doesn’t devote enough money to water storage (dams and reservoirs), and it’s “greener” than previous proposed bonds (that is, it sets significant money aside for conservation efforts, though California isn’t going to conserve it’s way out of its current water woes).

But in a state suffering from water shortages in crucial agricultural areas, the plan to raise $7 billion for water projects has won support from an array of groups, including the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council, the SW Regional Council Of Carpenters, the Northern California District Council Of Laborers, and the The State Building And Construction Trades Council of CA.

Meanwhile, however, prominent among the opponents is California’s chapter of AFSCME, which is distributing a voting guide listing its opposition to the ballot measure, along with a host of environmental groups, who abhor the artificial lakes created by California’s dams and envision returning the flow of water to some natural state reminiscent of 19th century California, as Victor Davis Hanson has noted in City Journal. The environmentalists have succeeded in court partially blocking man-made diversions of water to farmers and drying up agriculture jobs in the process. Future development is also in doubt without better water infrastructure.

The larger issue is what role public unions have in spending members’ money for campaigns that go beyond labor’s purview representing the bargaining interests of government workers. As I wrote several years ago, as the labor movement has come to be dominated by public sector workers, it has moved increasingly to the left on social issues that often have nothing to do with representing their own workers. One shift that has increasingly put public unions in conflict with blue-collar types has been government unions’ embrace of environmentalism.

We’ve seen in it a number of other places recently.Unions like the Communications Workers of America, which represents government employees in New Jersey and other places, and the Amalgamated Transit Union, whose members are largely public sector transit workers, have joined environmentalists to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, which trade unions have been lobbying to get built. In 2012, the Laborers International Union dropped out of the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of environmental groups and unions like CWA and SEIU, over their opposition to Keystone.

Even the AFL-CIO has withheld its endorsement of the pipeline. As one labor leader told theAmerican Prospect magazine in April of 2013, “In my 43 years in the labor movement, I can’t recall another time that AFL-CIO has remained neutral on any jobs program.” But the AFL-CIO, headed today by Richard Trumka, a former president of a public sector union (AFSCME), is a very different union from the one that George Meany once ran.

Some private unions have fought back aggressively. Chris Christie’s Democratic opponent in 2013, Barbara Buono, was universally backed by public unions and also earned endorsements from some of the nation’s biggest environmental groups after she promised to press ahead with efforts to lower carbon emissions in NJ. Some two dozen private unions supported Christie, and the leader of one told the press that the environmentalists backing Buono represented some of the “biggest enemies of any construction worker not only in the state of New Jersey but in the entire United States of America.”

There are some conservatives who oppose Prop 1 in California, but their opposition is to what they fear is waste and overspending in the bill, and its impact on the state’s budget. That’s not why the blue-green types are opposing the bill. They’d just as soon see development shut down in California, and limiting water supplies is a sure-fire way to do that. How that is also in the interests of government workers is anyone’s guess.

Steven Malanga is City Journal’s senior editor and a Manhattan Institute senior fellow. He is author of Shakedown: The Continuing Conspiracy Against the American Taxpayer, about the bankrupting of state and local governments by a new political powerhouse led by public-sector unions. He writes about the intersection of urban economies, business communities, and public policy. This article originally appeared on PublicSectorInc. and appears here with permission.