Posts

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 www.laborissuessolutions.com.

Unions Threaten Environmental Litigation to Block San Diego Convention Center

Whatever your views concerning the wisdom of the proposed $520 million expansion of the San Diego Convention Center and the related expansion of the adjacent Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel, you should be outraged at the shameless stunt of top San Diego labor union officials and their lawyers at the September 19, 2012 meeting of the Board of Port Commissioners for the United Port of San Diego.

The spectacle at the Port of San Diego was a powerful illustration of how labor unions abuse the California Environmental Quality Act, commonly known as CEQA (California Public Resources Code Section 21000 et seq.), to delay projects while demanding labor agreements and other economic or labor concessions from public and private developers. It also showed how community leaders and developers are too helpless or intimidated to try to stop or evade this practice, known as “greenmail.”


A Summary of the Spectacle at the Port Commissioners’ Meeting: You Won’t Read This Story in the Mainstream News Media!

Before a crowded meeting room packed with the San Diego region’s top civic leaders – including the Mayor of San Diego, Jerry Sanders – union officials declared to the Port Commissioners that the 1400-page final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that the Port Commissioners were about to approve for the proposed project was inadequate and incomplete under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). They made this claim despite the Port’s efforts to address the original 62-page CEQA objection letter submitted by those same unions on June 29, 2012 to the Port concerning the proposed San Diego Convention Center expansion. To see the union letter AND the 374 pages of exhibits, go to the full set of Convention Center CEQA comments here. (The union submission starts at page 101 of the PDF document and ends at page 536.)

At the September 19, 2012 meeting of the Port Commissioners, top union officials made sure that all the important community leaders in the room recognized who had the power and the commitment to derail the project. An official of the UNITE HERE Local Union No. 30 led off the attack by declaring that the Port’s plan to comply with CEQA was deficient and needed to be withdrawn for revisions. Then a lawyer from the South San Francisco law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo explained more specifically all of the newly discovered alleged problems with the Environmental Impact Report. She was given extra time to speak because Tom Lemmon – head of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council – submitted a speaker card and then transferred his speaking time to her.

Along with her comments, the lawyer for the unions brought to the podium a NEW 42 page letter (with 197 footnotes) and 250 pages of referenced exhibits on behalf of “The San Diego Coalition for A Better Convention Center.” This phony, unincorporated group is actually a front for the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council and UNITE HERE Local Union No. 30. Such last-minute CEQA “document dumps” at government meetings are routinely used by Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo on behalf of unions.

Union CEQA Documents Submitted to Port of San Diego - San Diego Convention Center Expansion

On behalf of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council and UNITE HERE Local Union No. 30, the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo submitted a huge last-minute objection under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to the proposed expansion of the San Diego Convention Center. The San Diego Port Commissioners approved the Environmental Impact Report anyway at its September 19, 2012 meeting.

Finally, Lorena Gonzalez, head of the San Diego County Central Labor Council, rushed into the meeting late to announce there were problems with the Environmental Impact Report for the convention center. Perhaps voters rejected her when she ran for San Diego City Council in 2005-06, but at this meeting she exercised the aggressive and coercive power of unionism as she spoke in front of the civic leaders seeking to help Mayor Jerry Sanders achieve this final economic development goal before he leaves office. Gonzalez proposed that the Port Commissioners approve a “tolling agreement” that would extend the statute of limitations for the unions to file a lawsuit. This would give unions more time to squeeze their demands out of the developers and the convention center’s public and private partners.

After these antics, the Port Commissioners recessed the meeting for about 20 minutes so Port staff could scan the document dump by Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo and make a preliminary determination of whether or not the unions introduced new and valid CEQA objections to the proposed convention center and hotel expansion. If the comments were serious threats, the Port Commissioners would need to table the item to approve the Environmental Impact Report.

Staff ultimately identified four potential areas vulnerable to lawsuits or appeals, but also indicated how the issues would be addressed. In the end, the Port Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the Environmental Impact Report, while noting that they expected litigation and appeals unless relevant parties were able to make a deal with the unions.


Using CEQA to Attain Objectives Unrelated to Environmental Protection

What is the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council seeking with its CEQA objections? As I documented in my March 11, 2011 www.TheTruthaboutPLAs.com article entitled It’s Out in the Open: Project Labor Agreement a Costly Possibility for San Diego Convention Center Expansion, union officials want a requirement for construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with trade unions as a condition of working on the projects.

Since the mid-1990s, Project Labor Agreements have become the primary political scheme that California construction trade unions use to gain monopoly control over public and private construction projects. While politicians are often lured by potential union campaign support into supporting government-mandated Project Labor Agreements, ordinary citizens don’t want their local government officials forcing contractors to sign costly union agreements to work on construction projects funded by tax dollars. Most people seem to understand instinctively what has been shown through a comprehensive study of California school construction released in 2011 by the National University System Institute for Policy Research in San Diego: Project Labor Agreements increase the cost of construction 13% to 15%. See the institute’s study at www.thecostofPLAs.com.

Since June 2010, voters in San Diego County, the City of San Diego, the City of Chula Vista, the City of Oceanside, and the City of El Cajon have all approved “Fair and Open Competition” charter provisions or ordinances that prohibit these local government entities from requiring their construction contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions as a condition of winning a contract. Voters in the City of Escondido will consider a charter provision in the November 6, 2012 election that achieves the same purpose of fair and open bid competition. People in the San Diego region clearly REJECT government-mandated Project Labor Agreements.


Unions Routinely Block Private Projects in the San Diego Region with Environmental Objections Until Developers Surrender and Agree to Sign Project Labor Agreements with Unions and Require Their Contractors to Do the Same

It’s hard to track and document the numerous threats and legal actions in the San Diego area by construction unions and other unions such as UNITE-HERE to exploit the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and other environmental laws to block and delay approval of development projects until a labor agreement is signed. The negotiations and applied pressure goes on behind closed doors, and often the victimized developer is compelled to succumb in secret. To add insult to injury, the developer is often dragged to a humiliating press conference to claim publicly that signing a Project Labor Agreement with unions is a wonderful business practice.

Two companies that exposed the union greenmail to the public were SeaWorld and Gaylord Entertainment.

1. SeaWorld San Diego Theme Park expansion – threatened in 2002, but resisted, and a Project Labor Agreement was not implemented. See background information here: Unions Fail to Force SeaWorld to Sign Project Labor Agreement.

2. Gaylord Entertainment hotel and convention center at the Chula Vista Bayfront – threatened in 2007 and 2008, but resisted. Gaylord ultimately abandoned the project and commenced construction instead of a resort complex in Arizona. See Gaylord Entertainment’s 2007 withdrawal letter: Out of Chula Vista; Unions Threaten CEQA Abuse.

Other companies have dealt with CEQA greenmail against proposed San Diego projects in various ways:

1. San Diego Padres Petco Park – the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 569 identified alleged environmental problems in 1999. The developer agreed to a Project Labor Agreement in 2000. The project magically became environmentally sound.

2. Ballpark Village – there was a Ballpark Village draft Project Labor Agreement circulating in 2005, after Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo – representing the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 569 – identified environmental problems with the project. Four years later, the same law firm identified environmental problems with the project on behalf of UNITE-HERE Local Union No. 30.

3. Poseidon Desalination Plant in Carlsbad – developer avoided union interference by agreeing to a Project Labor Agreement in 2005.

4. Downtown San Diego hotel projects, including Lane Field (Intercontinental Hotel and Aviana Suites), Sunroad Harbor Island Hotel, and San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina facilities expansion projects – the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo has identified alleged environmental problems with these proposed projects on behalf of UNITE-HERE Local No. 30.

5. Palomar Power Plant in Escondido – Sempra Energy signed a Project Labor Agreement and avoided licensing delays at the California Energy Commission instigated by intervenor California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE). There is also a 30-year Maintenance Labor Agreement for this power plant.

6. Otay Mesa Generating Station – see here how CURE extracted this Project Labor Agreement from Calpine.

7. Sunrise Powerlink transmission line – Project Labor Agreement implemented in 2010.

8. Pio Pico Energy Center in East Otay Mesa – The State Building and Construction Trades Council of California proudly announced on November 3, 2011 that it had extracted a Project Labor Agreement for the construction of this power plant. California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) did NOT intervene in the licensing process at the California Energy Commission on this 300 MW project. It’s odd how unions see devastating environmental problems with projects related to solar energy generation, but didn’t see the need to comment on this one…

Other projects of uncertain status:

1. 655 Broadway – no Project Labor Agreement; union-only though.

2. Sapphire Tower at 1262 Kettner Boulevard (Santa Fe Parcel 6) – the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 569 identified alleged environmental problems in 2004. (I spoke at the August 12, 2004 meeting of the Centre City Development Corporation about the union’s CEQA objections to this project.)

3. Chula Vista Bayfront project – Pacifica Companies – news media indicated that a Project Labor Agreement seemed likely.

4. Carlsbad Energy Center – threat or already agreed to Project Labor Agreement.


How Can San Diego Civic Leaders Derail the Union CEQA Attack on the San Diego Convention Center Expansion? Specific Recommendations to Four Parties.

1. San Diego’s News Media: The local news media needs to stop dancing around this issue so ordinary citizens can learn what’s happening and respond to it.  Most people think this racket is outrageous, and they will lash out against it. Even some dedicated union members are uncomfortable with the decision of their leaders to hold up projects using the California Environmental Quality Act. It just sort of feels wrong.

The union CEQA threats against Gaylord Entertainment’s proposed Chula Vista Bayfront hotel and convention center were widely reported in 2007 and 2008, and ordinary citizens were aghast. But in the case of the convention center expansion, local news media is being very cautious in their reporting, perhaps because they sense that negative publicity might jeopardize an ambitious project wanted badly by the region’s civic leaders. (For the latest examples of news media downplaying the union maneuvers, see Convention Center Project Takes a Major Step Forward – San Diego Union-Tribune – September 20, 2012 and Port Approves Environmental Report For Convention Center Expansion – KPBS – September 19, 2012.)

After the Port’s deadline on June 29, 2012 for interested parties to submit comments concerning the draft Environmental Impact Report, local news media reported on the various submissions, but neglected to mention the comments submitted by the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council and UNITE HERE Local Union No. 30 through Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo. This was a bizarre oversight, considering that the unions submitted 436 of the 536 total pages of comments! (See Convention Center EIR Cites Numerous Impacts – San Diego Union-Tribune – July 3, 2012, Concerns Expressed on Center Expansion: Report Brings Up Aesthetics, Noise, Air Quality, Traffic – San Diego Union-Tribune – July 6, 2012, and Port Preparing Final Convention Center Environmental Impact Report – San Diego Daily Transcript – July 3, 2012.) Those comments were the true story.

2. San Diego’s Business and Political Leaders: Someone in town has to be a courageous leader and organize a broad coalition to fight back publicly against this relentless exploitation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by local labor union officials and their lawyers. Few people were willing to even mention the subject at the September 19, 2012 meeting of the Port Commissioners – there were no heroes in a room full of congratulatory adulation. Civic leaders need to collectively speak out against this racket. In addition, they need to stop recognizing as “community leaders” those union officials who threaten to abuse CEQA to hold up projects in order to extract labor agreements. People who pull such antics don’t belong on boards of directors and executive committees of reputable community organizations.

3. California’s Leading Environmentalists: Legitimate environmental groups such as the Sierra Club of California and the Natural Resources Defense Council don’t like how state legislators and Governor Jerry Brown are pushing for changes to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). But if this sort of behavior keeps up, one day they’ll see the state legislature amending CEQA in a way much more radical than the relatively mild “Sustainable Environmental Protection Act” that they were shrieking about in August 2012. Perhaps it’s time for environmental leaders to ask their union ideological allies to stop using CEQA to extract labor agreements from developers and governments.

4. Reasonable State Legislators and Governor Jerry Brown: California elected officials – especially those representing San Diego County – have a great anecdote here as a basis for arguing the need for CEQA reform. Imagine all the pharmaceutical conventions that will go to Orlando and Phoenix when this proposed San Diego convention center expansion is blocked by the unions’ CEQA objections. I bet comic book enthusiasts will have a blast getting together in Las Vegas! By the way, the proposed CEQA reform known as the “Sustainable Environmental Protection Act” probably won’t make a difference in stopping the practice of union greenmail. More vigorous measures similar to Senate Bill 1631 (2008), Senate Bill 628 (2005), or Assembly Bill 598 (2012) will be needed to stop this racket.

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.

Will California Voters Reelect Supporters of Union Project Labor Agreements?

Election results for recent ballot measures in the cities of San Diego, Chula Vista, Oceanside, and El Cajon and in the County of San Diego confirm consistent poll results showing that California voters want their local government officials to solicit bids for taxpayer-funded construction contracts under fair and open competition. They don’t want their local governments to require their contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of winning a public contract.

But elected officials keep voting for government-mandated Project Labor Agreements. It’s the way to get union organizational and financial campaign support. And they assume voters will never hold them accountable for their votes at election time.

It takes a solid commitment of local activists and organizations to send an effective message to voters that certain elected officials are putting special interest groups ahead of prudent fiscal management. As campaigns get seriously underway for the November 6, 2012 elections, there are several movements afoot in California to make local elected officials accountable to voters for using the government to give unions a monopoly on taxpayer-funded construction.

Riverside Community College District’s Elected Board of Trustees

For example, a September 6, 2012 article by Dave Everett of the Southern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors in www.FlashReport.org (Cost Revealed for Takano & Medina Choosing Their Special Interest Friends Over Our Kids) reports on a plan to inform voters that two board members of the Riverside Community College District voted in March 2010 to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the San Bernardino and Riverside County Building and Construction Trades Council. The labor agreement applied to subsequent construction funded by Measure C, a $350 bond measure approved by voters six years earlier.

That government-mandated Project Labor Agreement was approved in a 3-2 vote – board members Jose Medina, Mark Takano, and Mary Figueroa in support, and Janet Green and Virginia Blumenthal opposed. Before the vote at the March 16 meeting, the three board members in support of the Project Labor Agreement made defiant speeches in support of unionism and their vision of social justice – a vision that excluded half of the 300 construction workers packing the auditorium. As you might guess, this was about upcoming elections.

Democrat Jose Medina ran for California State Assembly in 2010 and lost to the Republican incumbent. He has left the community college board and is again running for California State Assembly, in the open District 61 seat. Medina is endorsed by numerous labor unions.

Democrat Mark Takano is running for the open 41st Congressional District seat against Riverside County Supervisor and Republican John Tavaglione. The Riverside Press-Enterprise endorsed Tavaglione in the June 2012 primary and criticized Takano’s vote for the Project Labor Agreement in a May 2, 2010 editorial (INLAND: 1 for Congress):

Mark Takano, the other well-known candidate in this race, has a long tenure on the Riverside Community College District board. But Takano’s record and approach are more partisan and less collaborative than Tavaglione’s. And Takano in 2010 was one of three college board trustees who socked area taxpayers with an egregious project labor agreement. This needless giveaway inflated college district construction costs to curry favor with a special interest — hardly a compelling qualification for congressional service.

The Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction sponsored a full-page advertisement in the Riverside Press-Enterprise on June 4, 2012 informing readers about Takano’s vote.

Bond Measures in the West Contra Costa Unified School District, the Sacramento City Unified School District, and the San Diego Unified School District

The upcoming November 6, 2012 election brings a parade of California local school districts and community college districts asking the Victimized California Taxpayer to approve borrowing millions (or billions) of dollars through bond sales to pay for construction projects.

Some of the construction funded by these proposed bond measures will be managed by elected school board members who recognize their responsibility to spend taxpayers’ money wisely. They will ensure that their school districts seek reasonable interest rates for bonds and award construction contracts to companies under fair and open bid competition, without favoritism.

But three school districts proposing new bond measures to voters in November are notorious for fiscal irresponsibility and mismanagement. School boards in these three districts continually implement the costly demands of union officials, including the requirement that construction contractors sign Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) with unions as a condition of work. These school districts are the West Contra Costa Unified School District, the Sacramento City Unified School District, and the San Diego Unified School District.

  • This is the seventh time since 1998 that the elected school board of the West Contra Costa Unified School District has asked voters to authorize borrowing money for school construction by selling bonds to investors. This time they want voter approval to borrow $360 million through Measure E. The board of the West Contra Costa Unified School District also has a policy in place to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions in the Contra Costa County Building and Construction Trades Council.
  • The elected school board of the Sacramento City Unified School District wants voters to approve Measures Q and R so they can borrow $346 million for school construction by selling bonds to investors. In 2005, the board voted to require the district’s construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions in the Sacramento-Sierra Building and Construction Trades Council for projects funded by two bond measures previously approved by voters. The board renewed the Project Labor Agreement (with some amendments) in 2009.
  • In the San Diego Unified School District, it isn’t enough for the elected school board that in 2008 voters approved the borrowing of $2.1 billion for school construction by selling bonds to investors. They want voters to approve another $2.8 billion in borrowing authority through Proposition Z.  In 2009, the board voted to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions in the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council for projects funded by that 2008 bond measure. On July 24, 2012, the elected board voted 5-0 for a resolution expanding the scope of the Project Labor Agreement to projects funded by future bond measures.

Local taxpayer organizations – allied with grassroots community groups and local activists – have submitted ballot arguments and rebuttal arguments against these three proposed bond measures. I expect fierce campaigns in the next two months over these very costly proposals to borrow money for school construction by selling bonds to investors.

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

San Diego and Sacramento Asking Voters to Approve Over $3.0 Billion in Construction Bonds with Union Mandated Labor Agreements

Two California urban school districts notorious for requiring their construction contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) with construction trade unions will be asking voters to approve huge bond measures in the November 6, 2012 election.

Voters have overwhelmingly approved two large bond measures during the past 15 years for both the San Diego Unified School District and the Sacramento City Unified School District, but Project Labor Agreements were not an issue in those four campaigns.

The current elected board members of these two school districts apparently figure that cutting bid competition by giving unions control of construction work will not deter the November electorate in their cities from approving a third bond measure.

Whether or not voters make these school districts accountable for their construction contracting policies on behalf of construction trade unions will largely depend on the response of business and taxpayers groups to the proposed bond measures. There are few precedents in California for organized, well-funded campaign opposition to bond measures at school districts. On the other hand, opponents of Project Labor Agreements have 15 years of political experience aggressively fighting union-backed contracting policies at California local governments, particularly in San Diego and Sacramento.

San Diego Unified School District Wants Taxpayers to Pay for Bond Measure Worth $2.8 Billion (before Interest is Considered)

At its July 24, 2012 meeting, the Board of Education of the San Diego Unified School District approved a resolution to place a $2.8 billion bond measure on the November 6, 2012 ballot. This plot to get more taxpayer funding for construction has been in the works since the board’s November 1, 2011 meeting, at which the board directed staff to study the feasibility of a new capital facilities bond measure. The board received the results of the feasibility study on February 14, 2012, and of course the bond measure was highly feasible.

This is the third time in 15 years that the San Diego Unified School District has asked voters to approve billion-dollar bond measures. On November 3, 1998, 78% of voters approved the $1.51 billion Proposition MM, under which construction was awarded under fair and open bid competition, despite union lobbying for the school district to mandate that construction contractors sign a Project Labor Agreement.

Not knowing at the time that construction unions would be given control of the work, 69% of voters approved the $2.1 billion Proposition S on November 4, 2008. A Project Labor Agreement was sprung by the school board in January 2009 after union special interests won a seat in the same election and attained 3-2 majority control. The final version of the Project Labor Agreement was approved in July 2009 on a 3-2 vote, and the two board members who voted against it are no longer on the board.

In contrast to 2008, San Diego voters in the November 2012 election will be fully aware that the school board has given unions control of most of the work funded by the proposed $2.8 billion bond measure. To lock in the Project Labor Agreement for additional work funded by future bond measures, the school board voted 5-0 at the July 24, 2012 meeting for a resolution that expands the scope of the Project Labor Agreement for all projects that exceed $1 million and are paid for in whole or in part with future local bond funds.

Usually school boards are coy about their plans to mandate a Project Labor Agreement until after voters approve a bond measure. In this case, voters will be considering the wisdom of government-mandated Project Labor Agreements as well as the wisdom of taxing the citizens and businesses of San Diego an additional $2.8 billion (plus billions more in interest) for school construction.

Sacramento City Unified School District Wants Taxpayers to Pay for Bond Measure Worth $346 Million (before Interest is Considered)

On July 19, the Board of Trustees of the Sacramento City Unified School District approved a resolution to place a $346 million bond measure on the November 6, 2012 ballot. This plot to get more taxpayer funding for construction has been in the works since the board’s January 19, 2012 meeting, at which the board authorized the development of a Sustainable Facilities Master Plan. A feasibility study for this bond measure, including polling of voters, is ongoing, but you can bet that the bond measure will be found to be highly feasible.

This is the third time in 15 years that the Sacramento City Unified School District has asked voters to approve multi-million-dollar bond measures. On October 19, 1999, 79% voters approved the $195 million Measure E in a special election. On November 5, 2002, 67% of voters approved the $225 million Measure I.

The board of the Sacramento City Unified School District voted 5-1 on September 1, 2005 to require all contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with construction unions in order to work on projects worth $1 million or more funded by the remaining $170 million authorized by Measure E (1999) and Measure I (2002). On September 4, 2009, the board voted 5-0 to extend the district’s Project Labor Agreement on all Sacramento City Unified School District projects worth $1 million or more for another four years. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local No. 340 union official and board member Patrick Kennedy did not vote, in order to avoid a conflict-of-interest. See the amended and extended Project Labor Agreement here.

The school board for the Sacramento City Unified School District has considered Project Labor Agreements three times since 2000. The change in voting patterns symbolizes the change in the political climate of California over the past 15 years.

  • 2000 Board voted 4-3 to reject a PLA.
  • 2005 Board voted 5-1 to approve a PLA. (Actual vote count was 5-2.)
  • 2009 Board voted 5-0 to renew a PLA. (Actual vote count was 7-0.)

First Study on Project Labor Agreements in California Shows Cost Increase on School Construction

In July 2011, the Associated Builders and Contractors – California Cooperation Committee (ABC-CCC) announced the release of a study done by the National University System Institute for Policy Research in San Diego showing that California school construction project costs under Project Labor Agreements are 13-15 percent higher than costs under fair and open bid competition. The study is at www.thecostofPLAs.com.

The policy institute held a press conference on July 22, 2011 about the study, and a mailer about the study was sent to all public works and facility officials at California local governments. Union officials and a professor at a labor institute at Michigan State University promptly attacked the study, but undermined themselves by claiming the study omitted the consideration of variables that the study actually and clearly considered. This comprehensive study took 2½ years to complete and is probably the best Project Labor Agreement study ever produced in terms of sample size and validity of the results.

The author of the National University study spoke at a monthly meeting of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association on May 18, 2012 and was greeted by a “friend,” courtesy of the Contra Costa County Building and Construction Trades Council.

It’s not a surprise to see union officials so intent on attacking the detractors of Project Labor Agreements, considering their significant loss of market share over the past 30 years and the difficult economic circumstances in the California construction industry. They need work without the disadvantage of competition, and the school boards of the San Diego Unified School District and the Sacramento City Unified School District are willing to give it to them through Project Labor Agreements. It remains to be seen if taxpayers are willing to be part of it.

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 www.laborissuessolutions.com.