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Unions Virtually Alone in Love with California High-Speed Rail

Even close observers of the California High-Speed Rail Authority have struggled to track developments for the state’s planned bullet train. The debacle began in November 2008, when 52.7% of California voters approved Proposition 1A and triggered serious planning for what could be the most expensive construction project in human history. With that kind of money at stake, unions were obviously inspired to be part of this boondoggle.

Kings County Says No to CaHSRThe California High-Speed Rail Authority has become justly notorious for backroom deals, secretive administrative actions, and lack of transparency. But most Californians are at least vaguely aware that the project has been mismanaged and misrepresented.

Proposition 1A – placed on the ballot by the California State Legislature – authorized the State of California to borrow $9.95 billion to begin design and construction of a $45 billion complete high-speed rail system linking San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Sacramento. Including interest payments, the Proposition 1A commitment was estimated to be $19.4 billion to $23.2 billion for bonds to be paid back over 30 years. According to Proposition 1A, that money borrowed by the state was supposed to be supplemented with significant funding from the federal government, private investors, and municipal governments.

Proposition 1A also promised that the bullet train would be able to travel non-stop from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2 hours, 40 minutes. Presumably many Californians who voted for it – including the 78.4% of San Francisco voters who approved it – imagined a fast train speeding between two world-class cities along the median of Interstate 5. They were wrong.

Here’s the current appalling status of California High-Speed Rail:

1. The California High-Speed Rail Authority has spent $587 million on consultants as of September 30, 2013. The California State Treasurer has sold at least $703 million worth of bonds (Buy America Bonds and perhaps others) for California High-Speed Rail as of May 13, 2013.

2. The estimated cost has been dramatically revised. Instead of being $45 billion for the entire system, it is now $68 billion just for the line between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and the high-speed rail will be “blended” with other commuter rail lines at the beginning and end of the route. One group has estimated that the entire system may exceed $200 billion if bond interest is included and the federal government does not provide additional grants.

3. The California State Treasurer cannot sell the Proposition 1A state bonds because a judge determined in November 2013 that the California High-Speed Rail Authority failed to comply with the law. While the California High-Speed Rail Authority has already obtained $2,942,000,000 from the federal government, possibly under false pretenses of a commitment to matching funds, the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives is intent on stopping further grants until the Authority gets its act together. No private investors have emerged – corporations want to GET money from the Authority through contracts, not give it money to be squandered. Cities in the San Joaquin Valley where the line will be built first have no money to invest in it – Fresno is nearly bankrupt.

4. Governor Jerry Brown desperately included $250 million in his 2014-15 budget for California High-Speed Rail to be obtained from “Cap and Trade” allowances paid by emitters of greenhouse gases as part of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (Assembly Bill 32 or AB 32). But the project is expected to increase greenhouse gas emissions during four years of initial construction. The Authority claims it will earn the Cap and Trade funds because offsets from its tree planting program (as well as other activities such as “cleaner school buses and water pumps in Central Valley communities”) will allow it to produce “zero net emissions.”

5. With the “blended” plan, there are serious challenges to achieving the 2 hour 40 minute travel time required in law. An analysis claiming that the time can be met includes the train going over the Tehachapi mountain range (north of Los Angeles) at 150+ miles per hour. There is idle talk about digging a long tunnel for the bullet train through the seismically-active San Gabriel Mountains from Palmdale to Los Angeles, but this is probably to lull citizens of Santa Clarita into believing the rail won’t go through their town.

6. To the surprise and confusion of hipster high-speed rail supporters in San Francisco and Los Angeles, this bullet train will be a local, with stops at least in Merced, Fresno, Hanford or Visalia, Bakersfield, and Palmdale. In June 2013, the Authority awarded a $970 million contract (with provisions for an additional $55 million) to Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons (a joint venture) to design and build the first 29-miles of the high-speed rail between Madera and Fresno by February 2018. People are supposed to be able to ride the high-speed rail between Merced and Palmdale by 2022.

7. The California High-Speed Rail Authority erred by awarding the first design-build contract for a 29-mile stretch that includes 25 miles in one segment assigned for environmental review (Merced to Fresno) and four miles in another segment assigned for a different environmental review (Fresno to Bakersfield). While it received full environmental clearance for the 25-mile stretch, it has not received clearance for the 4-mile stretch. In December 2013, the federal Surface Transportation Board rejected a secretive request from the Authority for an exemption to environmental review. If it can’t get the federal exemption, the Authority’s design-build contract is in jeopardy.

8. Owners of 370 parcels that the California High-Speed Rail Authority needs for the first 29-mile stretch are apparently resisting or holding out on selling their property. At last report in mid-December, the Authority had allegedly closed escrow on five parcels. The Authority has now received authorization from the California Public Works Board to possess two parcels through eminent domain.

Based on these eight points alone, who would still be eager to proceed with this project besides Governor Jerry Brown, the corporations seeking contracts, and a scattering of citizens committed to various leftist causes related to urban planning and environmentalism? Unions.

Union supporters at California High-Speed Rail Congressional field hearing in Madera on May 31, 2013.

Union supporters at California High-Speed Rail Congressional field hearing in Madera on May 31, 2013.

In a backroom deal, without any public deliberation or vote, the board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority negotiated and executed a Project Labor Agreement (called a “Community Benefit Agreement”) with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. This agreement gives unions a monopoly on construction trade work and certain construction-related professional services.

In a January 16, 2013 email about the Project Labor Agreement to the former chairman of Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission, the Small Business Advocate of the California High Speed Rail Authority stated the following:

The Community Benefits Agreemeent (CBA) is an internal administrative document that was not necessarily intended to be circulated for public comment, however, that doesn’t mean you cannot provide me your input. The document was added to Construction Package #1 and Addendum 8 and I’ve attached it herein for your convenience. It includes regulatory compliance and is being reviewed by the Federal Rail (sic) Administration.

There is no evidence available to show that the Federal Railroad Administration approved the Project Labor Agreement, as required by law. But the final version of the agreement was signed in August 2013. No board member or administrator of the California High-Speed Rail Authority has commented in a public meeting about the agreement that will give unions control of most of the claimed 100,000 job-years of employment over a five-year period.

When State Senator Andy Vidak, with Congressman David Valadao, held a press conference critical of California High-Speed Rail on January 17, 2014 at the site of the eventually-to-be-demolished Fresno Rescue Mission, there were protesters: construction union leaders, lobbyists, public relations officials, and activists. The Fresno Bee reported this about the press conference:

In a news release prior to the announcement, Vidak indicated that his goal is to kill the bullet train. He tempered his in-person remarks, however, as he faced a crowd that included both high-speed rail critics from his home area in Kings County and a couple dozen representatives of labor unions who support the project…Rail supporters, some clad in hard hats and safety vests, booed Vidak as they wielded their own signs proclaiming high-speed rail as “good for the local economy, good for air quality and good for jobs.”

The Fresno Business Journal reported this about the press conference:

Dillon Savory, an advocate representing several local unions, commented after the event that high-speed rail would not only provide needed jobs, but it would help improve the Valley’s air, which has been heavily polluted this winter. Also, the cost of roadwork in the area is about double the cost of high-speed rail, making road construction less cost effective, Savory said. Savory criticized the anti-high-speed rail forced for trying to pit rail against water. He said the greater issue is putting people back to work with decent paying jobs. He said many union workers are only finding temporary work for about two weeks at a time. That is not putting food on the table, he said.

In 2013, Savory was the manager for the successful union-backed campaign to defeat a ballot measure (Measure G) supported by the Mayor of Fresno that would have allowed the city to outsource garbage collection. The political professionals are getting involved.

When the groundbreaking ceremony occurs for California High-Speed Rail, perhaps in an abandoned Madera County cornfield seized through eminent domain by the Authority, expect thousands of construction union workers to be bused in to block and neutralize any protesters. Governor Brown cannot suffer any more embarrassment over this boondoggle and debacle.

Bullet train path through Kings County farmland.

Bullet train path through Kings County farmland.

Sources

California Streets and Highway Code Section 2704.09 (implemented by California voters in November 2008 as Proposition 1A, as authorized by Assembly Bill 3034 (Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century)

Top-40 Donors to Campaign to Convince California Voters to Borrow $10 Billion to Start Building High-Speed Rail

Election Results by County: Proposition 1A (2008)

May 7, 2008 Senate Appropriations Committee legislative analysis for Assembly Bill 3034 (source of estimated costs of bonds, including interest payments)

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) High Speed Rail Awards

July 2012 – California’s High-Speed Rail Realities: Briefly Assessing the Project’s Construction Cost, Debt Prospects, and Funding (“The Realistic – No Additional Federal Funding scenario results in a total debt burden of $203 billion between 201 3 and 2058.”)

February 11, 2013 California High-Speed Rail Authority memo “Phase 1 Blended Travel Time”

A Preliminary Timeline of Activity Concerning What Will Be $9.95 Billion Borrowed through Proposition 1A Bond Sales for California High-Speed Rail

June 2013 – Contribution of the High-Speed Rail Program to Reducing California’s Greenhouse Gas Emission Levels (includes “plans to plant thousands of new trees across the Central Valley” and “cleaner school buses and water pumps in Central Valley communities”)

November 15, 2013 – Project Update Report to the California State Legislature (source of report that $587 million was spent on consultants)

November 25, 2013 California High Speed Rail Authority Bond Validation Lawsuit Ruling

November 25, 2013 – Tos Fukuda Kings County v California High-Speed Rail Prop 1A Part 1 Ruling

November 25, 2013 Tos Fukuda Kings County v California High-Speed Rail Prop 1A Part 2 Ruling

California High-Speed Rail – Fresno to Bakersfield Surface Transportation Board Exemption Letters

Project Labor Agreement (Community Benefits Agreement) for California High-Speed Rail – Addendum 8 in Bid Specifications – December 26, 2012

Project Labor Agreement (Community Benefits Agreement) for California High-Speed Rail – Final – August 13, 2013

February 27, 2013 Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission Chairman Wonders Why No Input Into California High-Speed Rail Authority Project Labor Agreement

Vidak Rails Against Bullet-Train Plan, Met by Bipartisan Crowd at Fresno EventFresno Bee – January 17, 2014

Vidak Calls for High-Speed Rail RevoteFresno Business Journal – January 17, 2014

California High-Speed Rail Scam

Past Articles in www.UnionWatch.org on Unions and California High-Speed Rail

Unions Creep Closer to Monopolizing California High-Speed Rail Construction – December 6, 2012

Watch Union Official’s Rude Antics at California High-Speed Rail Conference – January 15, 2013

Unions Await Fantastic Return on High-Speed Rail Political Investments – January 22, 2013

Exposing the Plot Behind Project Labor Agreement for California Bullet Train – April 30, 2013

Unions Defend California High-Speed Rail Project at Congressional Hearing – June 4, 2013

California Construction Unions Circumvent Public Scrutiny of Project Labor Agreements – September 17, 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.

 

Unions Defend California High-Speed Rail Project at Congressional Hearing

On May 28, 2013, the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure for the U.S. House of Representatives held a field hearing in Madera, California on oversight of the California High-Speed Rail project.

Unlike San Francisco, where 78.4% of voters approved Proposition 1A in November 2008 to authorize borrowing $9.95 billion through bond sales to fund the project, Madera County is farm country in the San Joaquin Valley, where the reception to the bullet train is generally hostile. Signs at the entrance to the Madera Community College Center, where the hearing was held, criticized the project and its Congressional supporters.

I had predicted in a couple of tweets that unions would have a strong, supportive presence at the committee hearing. That was indeed the case.

And when Congressman Jim Costa began his introductory remarks, he entered into the record a thick collection of letters in support of the project.

You can read the 120 pages of letters here: Support Letters – California High-Speed Rail – May 28, 2013 Congressional Field Hearing in Madera. The package isn’t as impressive when you discover that most of the letters are from union officials, and most of the letters are the same boilerplate language.

Nevertheless, the letters indicate why construction trade unions were among the biggest financial supporters of Proposition 1A in 2008 and remain among the strongest supporters today: “let’s create those jobs and get to work now.” And we are told “we simply can’t afford not to start building High-Speed Rail now.”

The main argument against California High-Speed Rail is that we simply can’t afford to build it. And the Project Labor Agreement that construction companies large and small will have to sign with unions as a condition of working on this project will increase the cost, if studies and anecdotes about Project Labor Agreements in California are an accurate indication of what happens when unions get a government-mandated monopoly on construction.

A union official told KSEE Channel 24 news in Fresno that the project was an opportunity to create jobs. But Nicole Goehring of the Northern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors also told KSEE Channel 24 news that those jobs were going to be union-only because of the Project Labor Agreement, which was imposed without public discussion or a vote of the board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. See Proposed High Speed Rail Plans Face Challenges.

For the boring but accurate details about the California High-Speed Rail Project Labor Agreement (aka Community Benefits Agreement), see my Analysis of the Phony Community Benefits and Other Provisions in the Union Project Labor Agreement for the First Segment of California’s High-Speed Rail.


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.

Watch Union Official’s Rude Antics at California High-Speed Rail Conference

On January 11, 2013, a video camera recorded a stunning public tirade by Fresno’s top construction union official at a conference about supposed local contracting opportunities for the first segment of California’s High Speed Rail. Below is video footage of the beginning of a panel discussion about Project Labor Agreements, and below that is the ignominious ending of the panel discussion a few minutes later.

The incident exposes the coercive power of special interest groups behind the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s quest to slice the first segments of this rail corridor through the San Joaquin Valley, located in the middle of the planned route between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It also compromises the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s relentless public relations program to portray the high-speed rail to coastal urbanites as a progressive, visionary plan to save the planet.

An effective public relations campaign depends on major news media focusing on idealistic concepts, rather than the coarse ground game related to which people from which places get the jobs to perform the actual construction. But while idealistic concepts for environmental sustainability are promoted by professional activists who work for non-profit environmental and public transit advocacy organizations, building the high-speed rail requires construction trade workers. This injects union officials from the San Joaquin Valley into the coalition to build the rail line. And one of those union officials tarnished the progressive image on January 11.

Background: Why Will Unions Get a Monopoly on Building California’s High-Speed Rail?

Construction trade unions have long planned to use the government as its agent to monopolize the building of high-speed rail, now estimated by the California High-Speed Rail Authority to cost $68.4 billion. It seemed probable (but not guaranteed) that union workers that specialize in heavy industrial infrastructure construction would end up building the rail line itself. However, the stations and other building infrastructure would be prime bidding targets for Northern California’s productive and efficient non-union contractors. And unions do not want another failure similar to their failed plot ten years earlier to win a Project Labor Agreement to build the new University of California campus in Merced.

That plan – backed by Governor Gray Davis – was undermined in 2001 and 2002 by San Joaquin Valley business, political, and community leaders, who worked with some aggressive construction business associations to expose and criticize the scheme. In the end, bidding was done under fair and open competition, and non-union contractors and their non-union employees were prominent in building the new campus.

This time, things are different. Unions provided campaign support to pass Proposition 1A (the “Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century”) in November 2008. The head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California was appointed to the High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors, along with an official for the Operating Engineers Local Union No. 3, which represents operators of cranes, excavators, and other construction equipment.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Section 7.11.3 of the Request for Proposal for Design-Build Services for the first segment of the California High-Speed Rail project states that “Proposers are advised that, subject to FRA [Federal Railroad Administration] approval, the Authority intends to develop a Community Benefits Agreement consistent with the Community Benefits Policy adopted by the CHSRA [California High-Speed Rail Authority] Board at its December 6, 2012 meeting with which the Contractor will be required to comply.” (Note: “Community Benefits Agreement” is a euphemism for “Project Labor Agreement” meant to give the public a nice warm feeling about a union sweetheart deal.)

And Section 10.1 of the Request for Proposal states that  “The Authority [that is, the California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales] will not make a recommendation for award of the Contract [to the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors] unless the successful selected Proposer has submitted the following: Escrowed Proposal Documents and corrected any deficiencies identified by the examination of the EPDs, and A letter of assent executed by the Proposer agreeing to be bound by the Community Benefits Agreement.” This indicates a government-mandated Project Labor Agreement.

California High Speed Rail Project Labor Agreement Mandate - Section 10.1

California High Speed Rail Project Labor Agreement Mandate – Section 10.1

In addition, the California High-Speed Rail Authority arranged the bidding process on the first segment of the High-Speed Rail (from Madera through Fresno) so that the five prequalified design-build construction consortiums are obligated to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California in order to be competitive. This subtlety is possible because the High-Speed Rail Authority is authorized to select the winning bidder using a somewhat subjective scoring system based on “best value” procurement criteria.

On December 6, 2012, the California High-Speed Rail Authority voted for a policy resolution that established generalized “community benefits” that contractors would have to demonstrate as a result of building the high-speed rail through the Central Valley. Not surprisingly, these same benefits are cited in the union Project Labor Agreement that is now included as a “Community Benefits Agreement” in Addendum 8 of the bid documents for the first segment of the high-speed rail. In order to maximize the score for community benefits, the contractor simply agrees to the Project Labor Agreement, and then everyone will feel good that ‘Needy’ Workers Will Get Jobs on High-Speed Rail.

For technical details about the provisions of this Project Labor Agreement, see my comprehensive, 4000-word Analysis of the Phony Community Benefits and Other Provisions in the Union Project Labor Agreement for the First Segment of California’s High-Speed Rail.

Unexpectedly Defiant Resistance to the Project Labor Agreement Provokes Union Anger

A panel discussion about the draft Project Labor Agreement for the construction of the first segment of the California High-Speed Rail was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Friday, January 11, 2012 during the 6th Annual San Joaquin Valley Region Public Contracting / Central Valley High Speed Rail Conference / Expo (Jobs & Contracts) at the Downtown Fresno Radisson Hotel & Convention Center. The panel moderator was Kathleen Ellis Faulkner, a Bakersfield attorney.

Three invited panelists showed up: John Hutson, Secretary-Treasurer of the Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare Counties Building and Construction Trades Council (this organization lacks a web site), Eric Christen of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction (a Project Labor Agreement opponent), and Nicole Goehring of the Northern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (another Project Labor Agreement opponent). As you hear in Video #1, organizers of the panel discussion had asked other union officials to participate (some apparently chose instead to sit in the audience).

As shown in Video #1, Hutson was flummoxed to find out he would be defending the unions’ Project Labor Agreement instead of explaining to the construction companies of the Central Valley how they would soon enjoy the benefits of unionization under the Project Labor Agreement if they hoped to work on the High-Speed Rail. He expresses his astonishment that “some little kid” was handing out information from Associated Builders and Contractors about Project Labor Agreements. He then proceeds to tell a colorful story from “when he was a small boy” about farm life.

None of this has anything to do with the terms and conditions of Project Labor Agreements in bid specifications for construction contracts, and Video #2 shows what happened when an effort was made by the moderator to get the panel discussion on track.

Hutson complains that Eric Christen is “edging it on” and “smiling it up.” (Did he mean “egging it on?”) He then says to Christen, in defiance of social norms of respect for other people as promoted by the White House and the U.S. Department of Labor, “I think I recognize you from before your sex change operation.”

The moderator tries to take the microphone away and restore order, but Hutson resists: “get your hands off.” Then he walks away from the table, only to return to spit out some profanity (specific words heard by witnesses but not quite audible on Video #2). He then storms out of the room (and the hotel) with his fellow union officials, leaving the contractors sitting in the room stunned at the personal attacks and derogatory statements launched during the five-minute panel discussion.

A press release jointly issued on January 11, 2013 by the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction and Associated Builders and Contractors quoted a Fresno-based construction company owner who attended the panel discussion:

I took time away from my workday to be here to discuss this important issue on behalf of my employees that prefer to work in a merit shop environment. The antics displayed today represent the reason why I left the Union many years ago. The taxpayers and voters of California should be deeply concerned about the union favoritism displayed in this agreement.

In November 2008, 52.7% of California voters supported Proposition 1A, called the “Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century.” How many of them assumed that the 21st Century would involve these kinds of union antics?

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.