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Finally Got It! Secret Union Deal for San Diego Convention Center

Through relentless and tedious persistence and a willingness to disturb “the Establishment” of the country’s eighth most populous city, the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction (based in California) has finally succeeded in obtaining and exposing a document revealing how the office of former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders (a Republican) arranged a secret and costly deal with Lorena Gonzalez, the former head of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO, to end union-initiated legal obstacles to the $520 million expansion of the San Diego Convention Center.

Mayor Sanders Calendar September 21 2012As outlined in the September 21, 2012 email from Mayor Sanders’ Chief of Staff Julie Dubick (see text below), unions would drop or settle their environmental objections under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to the proposed San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion. Unions would also drop their lawsuit challenging the structure of a tax assessment to pay back the principal and interest on bonds sold to borrow money for the expansion. Unions would openly and actively support the convention center expansion at the San Diego City Council and at the California Coastal Commission.

In exchange, the San Diego Mayor’s Office would facilitate negotiations between the unions and the construction manager at-risk selected for the project (Clark Construction) for a Project Labor Agreement with construction trade unions. (Yes, this was a classic case of union CEQA “greenmail” that Governor Jerry Brown and the Democrat majority in the California State Legislature apparently want to shield from CEQA reform measures.)

Developing this labor agreement had to be done subtly and undercover. San Diego voters had approved an ordinance (Proposition A) three months earlier that prohibited the city from requiring contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement as a condition of working on city projects.

Also as part of the deal, the Mayor’s Office would initiate discussions with Marriott hotel management in support of a union position (apparently on behalf of UNITE HERE Local Union No. 30) and appoint someone acceptable to the unions to the San Diego Convention Center Corporation Board of Directors.

The-Moment-of-LIE-San-Diego-Convention-Center-Project-Labor-Agreement1-e1353109801912All of this was done without any public hearings or public votes by any elected or appointed board with any authority over the project. On November 8, Mayor Sanders hastily convened a press conference featuring Lorena Gonzalez to announce that unions now supported the convention center expansion.

On that same day, he appointed Laurie Coskey – the Executive Director of the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice – to the San Diego Convention Center Corporation Board of Directors.

Even the environmental settlements were cynical. Unions ended up abandoning their demand that the Environmental Impact Report address the effect on the convention center expansion of an expected sea level rise caused by global warming. As it turns out, the California Coastal Commission sees this as a legitimate concern. City officials anticipated that the Coastal Commission would promptly approve the project, but this has not happened despite the new union enthusiasm for it.

The Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction needed nine months to fit this puzzle together. It had repeatedly failed under the authority of the California Public Records Act to obtain any records of substance about the suspected deal, even after filing a lawsuit against the City of San Diego.

Those requests for public records were foiled because the Chief of Staff for the Mayor of San Diego was using a private Gmail address to facilitate meetings between top city officials and top union officials. In fact, the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction suspects that a lot more wheeling and dealing between the city and the unions was probably occurring through the use of private email accounts. The people of San Diego still remain ignorant of how their government works in practice. (One could surmise that union officials like it that way.)

This particular case suggests the following list of outrages:

  1. Using private email accounts for public business in order to evade the state’s public records access laws and keep the press and the public uninformed.
  2. Secret and devious arrangements meant to circumvent a city ordinance approved by voters.
  3. Abuse of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to attain economic objectives unrelated to environmental protection.
  4. Subversion of fair and open bid competition by requiring construction contractors to sign a contract with unions as a condition of work.
  5. Union favoritism.
  6. Appointing someone with obvious union connections to a government board in exchange for union support of a project.
  7. Government intervention in the relationship between a private employer and union officials eager to represent its employees (for a price) in exchange for union support of a project.
  8. Potential cost increases on a government project resulting from reduced bid competition and the administrative costs of an unnecessary labor contract.
  9. Abandonment of environmental objections subsequently identified by the California Coastal Commission to be legitimate concerns.
  10. Perpetuating civic decline by surrendering to organizations that exploit California’s burdensome legal code for personal gain.

Lorena Gonzalez SignLessons for the Next Generation

Mayor Jerry Sanders left office (to be replaced by Bob Filner) with a legacy of achievement and is now President & CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. Lorena Gonzalez left her union position with a legacy of achievement and won a special election to the California State Assembly, District 80, with the heartfelt campaign slogan “Honesty in the Assembly.”


Here is the text of the document revealing the secret union deal for the San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion:

From: Dubick, Julie
Sent: Friday, September 21, 2012 9:46 AM
To: ‘LGonzalez@unionyes.org’; ‘tklein@unionyes.org’
Subject: Doc3[1 ].docx
Attachments: Doc31 doc.docx

From: Dubick, Julie
Sent: Friday, September 21, 2012 9:47 AM
To: ‘Stephen Cushman’
Subject: Doc3[1] .docx
Attachments: Doc31 doc.docx

Here is suggested language. Please confirm receipt to jpdubick@gmail.com. See you at 2pm today. Julie

San Diego Convention Center Union Deal

Primary Source Documents:

Proposition A (approved by 58% of San Diego voters in June 2012) – City of San Diego Fair and Open Competition ordinance – prohibition on city-mandated Project Labor Agreements

Browning vs. The San Diego City Council (UNITE HERE Local 30 lawsuit)

Union Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Report for San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) – June 29, 2012

Union Comments on Final Environmental Impact Report for San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) – September 19, 2012

Settlement Agreement – Building Trades Unions – San Diego Convention Center – 2012 (ENVIRONMENTAL SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT FOR THE CONVENTION CENTER PHASE III EXPANSION AND EXPANSION HOTEL PROJECT BY CITY OF SAN DIEGO; SAN DIEGO COALITION FOR A BETTER CONVENTION CENTER; SAN DIEGO COUNTY BUILDING AND CONSTRUCTION TRADES COUNCIL; UNITE HERE LOCAL 30; AND BILLIE JOHNSON)

Settlement Agreement – UNITE-HERE Union Local 30 – San Diego Convention Center – 2012 (SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT FOR THE CONVENTION CENTER PHASE III EXPANSION AND EXPANSION HOTEL PROJECT BY AND BETWEEN CITY OF SAN DIEGO; BRIGETTE BROWNING; SERGIO GONZALES; AND UNITE HERE LOCAL 30)

Settlement Agreement – Various Construction Trade Unions – San Diego Convention Center – 2012 (ENVIRONMENTAL SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT FOR THE CONVENTION CENTER PHASE III EXPANSION AND EXPANSION HOTEL PROJECT BY CITY OF SAN DIEGO; CITY OF SAN DIEGO CITY COUNCIL; SAN DIEGO CONVENTION CENTER FACILITIES DISTRICT NO. 2012-1; COALITION FOR RESPONSIBLE CONVENTION CENTER PLANNING; TERRY LUTNICK; CINNA BROWN; AARON MICHAELSON; INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRIC (sic) WORKERS LOCAL 569; UNITED ASSOCIATION OF PLUMBERS & STEAMFITTERS LOCAL 230; SHEETMETAL WORKERS LOCAL 206; AND IRONWORKERS LOCAL 229)

San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion Project Labor Agreement

San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council press release celebrating the Project Labor Agreement on the San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion – November 15, 2012

Comprehensive Background:

www.SanDiegoConventionCenterScam.com

It’s Out in the Open: Project Labor Agreement a Costly Possibility for San Diego Convention Center Expansion – www.TheTruthaboutPLAs.com – March 11, 2011

Unions Submit 436 Pages of Objections to Draft Environmental Impact Report for Proposed San Diego Convention Center Phase III Expansion Project: CEQA Abuse Run Rampant – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – August 8, 2012

Brazen! Union Officials and Their Environmental Lawyers at Port Commissioners’ Meeting Threaten to Stop San Diego Convention Center Expansion Using California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – September 20, 2012

Unions Threaten Environmental Litigation to Block San Diego Convention Center – www.UnionWatch.org – September 20, 2012

Union Officials Intimidate San Diego Civic Leaders – www.FlashReport.org – September 20, 2012

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

Unions Get Control of San Diego Convention Center Expansion: CEQA Abuse Is Effective, Fair and Open Competition Ordinance Evaded – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – November 8, 2012

Unions and Mayor in San Diego Brag to the Public about San Diego Convention Center Construction Deal, But Refuse to Provide It to the Public – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – November 13, 2012

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

San Diego Union Officials Ignored Global Warming-Related Sea Level Rise in Environmental Settlements for San Diego Convention Center Expansion, Despite Identifying It as Major Deficiency Under CEQA – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – November 15, 2012

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

Where is the Project Labor Agreement for the San Diego Convention Center Expansion? A Press Conference Outlining an Action Plan – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – November 16, 2012

Website Dedicated to Exposing Wasteful and Fraudulent Nature of San Diego Convention Center Expansion – San Diego Rostra – January 16, 2013

Highlighting the Top Union Abuses of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) – www.FlashReport.org – February 18, 2013

Persistent Pressure Compels San Diego to Spit Out Project Labor Agreement – www.UnionWatch.org – April 23, 2013


Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.

Persistent Pressure Compels San Diego to Spit Out Project Labor Agreement

For five months, the City of San Diego refused to give the public a Project Labor Agreement negotiated for its planned $520 million convention center expansion. This union agreement was reportedly the result of a backroom deal involving top union leaders, but multiple requests for it under the authority of the California Public Records Act failed to dislodge it.

But today (April 23, 2013), the city provided the labor agreement to the public, less than 24 hours after a construction organization filed a lawsuit to get it. 

Here are some of the twists and turns of this saga, which serves as an excellent case study in how unions manipulate public policy at the state and local level in California.

In May 2012, the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council submitted a massive objection under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) against the draft Environmental Impact Report for the proposed San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion. Four months later, the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council submitted another massive CEQA objection against the revised and final Environmental Impact Report, this time choosing the drama of presenting it during a packed meeting at which San Diego port commissioners were scheduled to approve the project. (Attorneys for unions routinely engage in last-minute CEQA “document dumps” at California public meetings in order to intimidate public officials and developers into surrendering to union economic demands.)

In November 2012, a few days after union-backed Congressman Bob Filner was elected as the next mayor, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and Lorena Gonzalez – head of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Central Labor Council – held a press conference to announce a settlement concerning the union CEQA complaints and also a settlement concerning a union-backed lawsuit challenging the financing method for the project. The settlements resolved very few of the environmental concerns indicated in the union CEQA complaints – not even the subsequently high-profile concern of protecting the project from sea level rise caused by global warming.

However, the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council now had a Project Labor Agreement for construction of the Convention Center expansion, as proclaimed in a press release. And UNITE-HERE Local No. 30 “extended their Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), ensuring a unionized operation of the Convention Center once expanded,” according to Lorena Gonzalez.

If the apparent union “greenmail” of the project using CEQA as leverage to get labor agreements wasn’t controversial enough, the Project Labor Agreement also appeared to violate a ballot measure (Proposition A) approved by 58% of San Diego voters in June 2012. That ballot measure established a “Fair and Open Competition” ordinance prohibiting the city from entering into contracts that require construction companies to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions as a condition of work. It was put on the ballot in part to protect the convention center from ongoing union lobbying efforts at the city council to win monopoly control of  its construction.

Up to that time, voters and elected boards of local governments throughout the state had been defying union officials and approving Fair and Open Competition policies, starting in October 2009 with Orange County. In response, the California State Legislature passed and Governor Jerry Brown signed into law two bills (Senate Bill 922 and Senate Bill 829) pushed by then-State Senator Michael Rubio to nullify all Fair and Open Competition policies in counties and general law cities and cut off state funding for charter cities (such as San Diego) that enacted or failed to repeal such policies.

Union leaders in San Diego, particularly Lorena Gonzalez, repeatedly warned that the state would cut off money to the City of San Diego if voters didn’t repeal the Fair and Open Competition ordinance they had approved in June 2012. But for now this dramatic threat has proven to be empty, and Proposition A remains in the City of San Diego Municipal Code.

An unexpected political development occurred a few weeks after the mayor and top county union leader announced the settlement agreements for the convention center: Lorena Gonzalez announced her candidacy for the 80th Assembly District seat that would soon become vacant. Like the Eye of Sauron, union political focus in San Diego County shifted from government-mandated unionization to the task of getting her elected.

Meanwhile, a group called the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction sought to obtain the Project Labor Agreement as the preliminary step to a planned lawsuit contending that the union deal violated the Proposition A ordinance. None of the many parties involved – including the City of San Diego – would provide the document, and finally the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction filed a lawsuit against the city to get it.

A press release dated April 18, 2013 stated the following:

“We’re going to get that union Project Labor Agreement, expose it to the public, and make every schemer involved with this union sweetheart deal accountable for breaking the law,” said Eric Christen, executive director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction.

Perhaps a schemer somewhere was getting nervous. The city promptly handed over the Project Labor Agreement today, April 23, 2013.

Note that the aggressive actions of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction repulse many civic leaders in San Diego. It disrupts the cozy relationship of politicians, unions, and business interests giving each other special favors to get the convention center expanded. It creates additional controversy for a project already under scrutiny for the bizarre tax scheme involving hotel room fee assessments that will be used to pay back the borrowed money (and interest) obtained through bond sales to pay for construction. At a more basic level, many impartial observers believe the expansion is unnecessary and foolish.

Exposing the shenanigans of unions and their cohorts in California wins few friends among the powerful, but it does disgust the ordinary voter who ends up paying for it, one way or another.

Sources:

Project Labor Agreement for the San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion

Lawsuit to Obtain Copy of Union Project Labor Agreement on San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion

Letter claiming the Project Labor Agreement for this public project is a “Trade Secret”

Settlement Agreement – Building Trades Unions – San Diego Convention Center – 2012

Settlement Agreement – Various Construction Trade Unions – San Diego Convention Center – 2012

May 2012 Union CEQA Objections to the Draft Environmental Impact Report on the San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion

September 2012 Union CEQA Objections to the Final Environmental Impact Report on the San Diego convention center Phase 3 Expansion

Background on Proposition A, the Fair and Open Competition ordinance approved by 58% of San Diego voters in June 2012

For more detailed information, see these web sites:

www.SanDiegoConventionCenterScam.com

“San Diego Convention Center” articles in www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com

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 Litigating to Grant Themselves Veto Power Over Citizen Initiatives

If taxpayers want to curb pension costs with a ballot measure, do they need an OK from unions before they start collecting signatures?

San Diego’s Municipal Employees Association seems to think so.  The MEA, which represents 6,000 workers on the city payroll, wants government unions to have a gatekeeper role in the initiative process — a right to advance review of certain ballot proposals that would affect employee benefits.

Disturbingly, the courts have declined, so far, to set the union straight.

Triggering the controversy is Proposition B, the pension-reform plan that San Diego voters overwhelmingly approved on June 5.

Prop. B would shrink the city’s pension-fund shortfall by switching to 401-k-style retirement plans for new hires, and capping how benefits are calculated for current employees.
 
                     

Taking the initiative – against the initiative process


A challenge was expected, but MEA’s unprecedented ploy caught a lot of people by surprise.  The union raised an eccentric procedural argument, proposing something like a panel of inquisition for certain initiatives that tinker with public-sector compensation, even if mountains of petitions from members of the public have been submitted in their support.

In an action filed with the state Public Employment Retirement Board (PERB), the union says that Prop. B should have gone through “meet and confer” discussions – i.e., the negotiation process that government conducts with labor leaders when it wants to change employee rules and regs.

Say what?   San Diegans shouldn’t have been allowed to vote on Prop. B without unions first vetting – and maybe vetoing – it?

If you aren’t scratching your head in puzzlement, you should be.    Prop. B wasn’t a piece of government legislation or an agency regulation.   The City Council didn’t put it on the ballot —  the people did.

Yes, Mayor Jerry Sanders helped lead the campaign.   The union seized on that fact to claim that he and other city officials were the real force behind the measure, so it should be treated as an official government enactment.

Wrong.  It doesn’t matter how many officeholders climb aboard a ballot-proposal bandwagon, or even if elected officials are at the wheel.  The state Constitution defines the “initiative” as the right of “the electors” – the voters – to propose new laws.  That right doesn’t depend on who drafts, sponsors, endorses, or even funds the measure.  What classifies it as a citizen initiative – a work of the public, not the public sector – is that the required number of registered voters sign petitions to qualify it for the ballot.
 
                                            

145,000 hands raised for reform


Were the 145,000 petition-signers for Prop. B all supposed to “meet and confer” with union representatives? Qualcomm Stadium accommodates 71,500 fans for Chargers games, while 42,000 seats are available at Petco Park, where the Padres do business.   Maybe the two arenas could have been rented out for a series of mass meetings, with the union springing for complimentary beer and hot dogs, and overtime for the Padres organist?

Seriously, the notion that a citizen initiative must run a pre-election gauntlet of labor leaders or government negotiators, should have been gaveled out of court.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

Although a Superior Court ordered a halt to PERB’s review of the union’s complaint, that decision was reversed by the Fourth District Court of Appeal.   Because PERB has jurisdiction over claims of unfair labor practices such as “meet and confer” violations, the appellate court reasoned that the union’s case should be heard.   Besides, PERB’s final ruling can be appealed to the judiciary.

This approach would make sense for a complaint about government policy actions.   But not when it is the public that is doing the lawmaking.  In that context — the context of the initiative process — the “meet and confer” concept doesn’t compute, so PERB had no business even taking up the union’s complaint.

When voters are acting in their lawmaking role, no intermediaries can stand between them and the ballot box – not bureaucracies, not elected officials, not outside interest groups.

Consider the state Supreme Court’s strong words in Legislature v. Eu, the 1991 decision that upheld Proposition 140, limiting terms for state lawmakers.

Giving politicians prior review over ballot measures, the court said, would invert the process and subvert its purpose:

“To hold that reform measures such as Proposition 140, which are directed at reforming the Legislature itself, can be initiated only with the Legislature’s own consent and approval, could eliminate the only practical means the people possess to achieve reform of that branch.  Such a result seems inconsistent with the fundamental provision of our Constitution placing ‘[a]ll political power’ in the people.”

By the way, Prop. 140 was sponsored by an elected official (Los Angeles County Supervisor Pete Schabaram). The Eu court still recognized it as a citizen initiative, and nixed any third-party meddling with the people’s exercise of their rights.

Unfortunately, in the Prop. B case, the state Supreme Court recently declined to review the Fourth District’s ruling — passing up a chance to apply the Eu precedent to good effect.   So, PERB’s meddling continues.  PERB is still being allowed to hear the union’s complaint and second-guess the 66 percent of San Diego voters who said “yes” to pension reform.
 
                             

The courts will have another chance to do their duty


But take heart.  PERB’s power to butt in – and MEA’s startling suggestion that a union can blackball a citizen initiative, when it happens to be supported by a public official – will get another judicial hearing if, as is likely, PERB’s eventual ruling is appealed.

One of the few paths to real pension reform in this state – in fact, maybe the only path — is via the ballot box.   But can reformers be roadblocked by union “ballot measure inspectors” before the first signature-gatherer can head out to the mall?

Not if the courts do their constitutional duty by rejecting MEA’s power grab and making it clear: The initiative process is about the people’s sovereignty, not union supremacy.

Harold Johnson is an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation. This article was originally published on the website Fox and Hounds and is republished with permission.