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Will California Union Officials Get to Discuss Project Labor Agreements in Closed Session?

A September 17, 2013 article in www.UnionWatch.org reported on “the end of public deliberation and votes for Project Labor Agreements in the legislative branch of state and local governments. Instead, backroom deals are made in the executive branch to give unions control of the work.” Now another union strategy has been discovered for evading public scrutiny: governing boards discussing Project Labor Agreements with union officials during “closed session” of public meetings.

California law allows governing boards to meet in closed session to discuss and make decisions concerning certain issues deemed by the state legislature to require an appropriate degree of privacy. These issues include employee or student disciplinary actions, safety and security procedures, litigation, property negotiations, liability claims, and conferences with labor negotiators for employees or employee organizations.

By law, a public meeting agenda is required to include items to be discussed in closed session. Section 54954.5 of the California Government Code even lists categories to use for agenda items in closed session, for example, “Conference with Labor Negotiators.”

At some point for some reason, governing boards for several California local governments apparently began discussing terms and conditions of Project Labor Agreements with construction trade union representatives in closed session. This was a clever interpretation of the labor negotiation purpose of closed session, but it was inappropriate: employees of construction companies that contract with a government for services are not actually employees of that government.

The plot began to unravel when a representative of three subcontractor associations discovered a reference in the closed session items of the July 18, 2013 meeting agenda of the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority board of directors. An item classified as “Conference with Labor Negotiators” involved the Napa-Solano Building and Construction Trades Council as an “employee organization.”

This probably would not have appeared suspicious under normal circumstances, because building trades councils and individual construction unions often represent public employees who work directly for the government. (Yes, traditional construction trade unions are sometimes public employee unions.) But in this case, the agency was in the process of considering a mandate for contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions for an upcoming project.

After the agency received a July 16, 2013 letter indicating that discussion of the Project Labor Agreement in closed session was illegal, staff for the Water Emergency Transportation Authority moved the item to open session. At the meeting, representatives of various trade unions bickered before the board about provisions in the agreement, thus revealing why the discussion was originally set for closed session. In the end, the project was bid and awarded under fair and open competition, without a government-mandated Project Labor Agreement in the bid specifications.

Meanwhile, an elected board member for the Rancho Santiago Community College District in Orange County saw a report about this San Francisco Bay Area controversy over discussing Project Labor Agreements in closed session and realized that his own district had engaged in the same practice. The board member provided the district with a memo from an attorney with the Pacific Justice Institute outlining why discussion of Project Labor Agreement negotiations in closed session violated the state’s open meetings law.

As a result of this board member’s efforts, the college board had a “Discussion of Community and Student Workforce Project Agreement Action Negotiations with Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council/Craft Unions/Carpenters Union” at its November 12 meeting.

A summary of the agenda item stated “It is recommended that the board formally agree to refrain from any discussion of negotiations on the Community and Student Workforce Project Agreement in closed session unless or until more conclusive information is provided to clarify the legality of such discussions in closed session per the Brown Act.”

What stunned opponents of Project Labor Agreements was the extent of this practice, as revealed in the staff report: “It is a common practice for K-12 districts, community college districts, municipal governments, special utility districts, and other public agencies to discuss PLA negotiations in closed session.”

It cited “Southwestern Community College District, Riverside Community College District, San Mateo Community College District, Contra Costa Community College District, Santa Ana Unified School District, Pasadena Unified School District, San Bernardino Unified School District, and San Diego Unified School District, among others…almost every public agency that has negotiated a PLA in California has discussed the negotiations in closed session.”

Was this list of specific local governments provided by a union lawyer based on personal experience and knowledge? At the board meeting, a construction trade association representative asked the college to identify the source for the list of local governments that discussed Project Labor Agreements in closed session. The chancellor responded that staff obtained the list, and the association representative then asked if those governments had indicated their closed session discussions on public meeting agendas. The chancellor did not know.

Three Implications for 2014 of California Governing Boards Discussing Project Labor Agreements in Closed Session

  1. Undoing Existing Project Labor Agreements: What kind of backroom deals were discussed and concluded by governing board members at those identified local governments during closed session? If boards held discussions illegally, does that undermine the legality of the Project Labor Agreements now enacted at some of these governments? Such questions may be answered with a tedious, thorough search of old meeting agendas, combined with requests for public records. The investigation and subsequent enforcement of the law could restore fair and open bid competition at several local governments, including the San Diego Unified School District, which requires contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for several billion dollars of taxpayer-funded construction under its Proposition S (2009) and Proposition Z (2012).
  2. Establishing an Official State Opinion on Using Closed Session to Discuss Project Labor Agreements: The chancellor for the Rancho Santiago Community College District is expected to ask the California Attorney General Kamala Harris for an opinion about the legality of governing boards discussing Project Labor Agreements in closed session. Advocates of open government will need to submit advice and recommendations to the Attorney General, lest she takes the opportunity to give unions special rights for secret policy development.
  3. Changing State Law to Limit Public Scrutiny and Input for Project Labor Agreements: In 2014, Jerry Brown is still Governor, and Democrats remain close to or at supermajority control of the California Assembly and Senate. Expect the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California to sponsor a bill that allows governing boards to discuss Project Labor Agreements in closed session. It will be a big step forward for union officials to end the unpleasantness of public deliberation and votes to require construction companies to sign Project Labor Agreements as a condition of work on taxpayer-funded construction.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Tracking California’s November 2012 Elections Related to Labor Issues

California’s Proposition 32 is the country’s most high-profile election in November 2012 directly related to labor unions and labor policy issues. There are also several California local elections – particularly Measure V to enact a charter in the City of Costa Mesa – that will potentially strengthen or weaken union control of government. Here’s a summary of the elections to watch in California.

Proposition 32 – “Stop Special Interest Money” – Requires Union Leaders to Get Permission Before Taking Workers’ Money for Political Purposes

The statewide ballot measure Proposition 32 includes a requirement for union officials to get annual permission from a union member (or represented non-member) before extracting money from that worker’s paycheck for political purposes. Under current law, unions can simply take money from employee paychecks when desired in order to influence legislation or elections. For more information on how this coercive power is implemented in practice, see My Outline of the June 21, 2012 U.S. Supreme Court Decision on a California Union’s Mandatory Fee Assessment on Non-Members to Fight Governor Schwarzenegger’s 2005 Ballot Measures.

A common description of Proposition 32 is “game changer” and the $70 million spent against it by union leaders proves this moniker is not political exaggeration. Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, asserts that Proposition 32 is “the most important political reform measure to be placed before California voters in decades. If passed, it would surpass Governor Scott Walker’s successful ballot measure in Wisconsin last year. Moreover, it would be the ‘shot heard ‘round the political world’ as it would fundamentally change the way special interests are required to operate in the realm of California politics.”

Proposed Charters Would Allow Three California Cities to Set Their Own Policies for Municipal Affairs and Circumvent Costly Union-Backed State Mandates

Union leaders are clearly concerned that many of the state’s medium-sized suburban cities and smaller towns are exercising their right under the California Constitution to use charters to escape the tight grip of the state legislature, where union lobbyists basically set the agenda.

A 4-1 majority of the city council of Costa Mesa (in Orange County) is asking city voters to approve Measure V, which would enact a charter so the city can control its own municipal affairs, such as contracting-out of government services and government-mandated construction wage rates. Measure V would give the city authority to free itself from costly and inflexible union-backed mandates from the state legislature.

A professor of public administration at Chapman University (in Orange County) describes Costa Mesa as the ideological “ground zero for virtually everything taking place in the country” and the proposed Measure V charter as “a political manifesto of how government should be organized in the 21st century.” The $500,000 spent against Measure V by union leaders proves this assessment is not political hyperbole.

For more information, see my www.UnionWatch.org article Mysterious Union Slush Fund Spends $100,000 Against Costa Mesa Charter and Gee , Do You Think a Charter Is a Meaningful Way for California Cities to Pursue Fiscal Responsibility? $500,000 of Union Opposition Confirms It.

A second city proposing a charter to voters is Escondido (in San Diego County), with Proposition P. This charter essentially provides the City of Escondido with the same power and authority as the proposed charter in Costa Mesa, but union opposition has been minimal. Perhaps San Diego County union leaders concluded it was a waste of limited campaign resources to try to undermine Proposition P: since 2007, voters in the San Diego County cities of Vista, Santee, Carlsbad, Oceanside, and El Cajon have all approved robust, aggressive charters.

Meanwhile, in the San Luis Obispo County coastal town of Grover Beach, construction trade unions spent a few thousand dollars to send slick, professional mailers from Sacramento to residents urging them to vote against Measure I-12, a proposed charter with similar powers to the ones proposed in Costa Mesa and Escondido. See my articles Campaign Mailer Opposing the Proposed Grover Beach Charter: Definitely NOT Photocopied at Dave’s Copies & Fax and Who Paid the Bills for the Mailers Opposing the Proposed Charter (Measure I-12) in Grover Beach? No One.

The union strategy in Grover Beach emulates successful union-funded mail campaigns to defeat proposed charters in Rancho Palos Verdes in March 2011 and Auburn in June 2012. Unions have learned they can successfully overrun local grassroots activism for charters in smaller towns by stuffing voters’ mailboxes with deceptive, paranoid propaganda. (For more information about how unions defeated the Rancho Palos Verdes and Auburn charters, see my article Who Defeated the City of Auburn’s Proposed Charter, and How Was It Done? (Answer: Three Union Entities, by Spending $56.40 Per NO Vote).

I expect more than a dozen California cities will ask voters to enact charters in the June 2014 election. Currently there are 121 California cities with charters. Many of these cities take advantage of their charters to establish their own policies concerning government-mandated construction wage rates (so-called “prevailing wages”). See Are Charter Cities Taking Advantage of State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Exemptions?

Unions Help K-12 School and Community College Districts to Borrow Money for Union-Only Construction by Selling Bonds

Voters throughout California are being asked to approve 106 ballot measures to authorize school districts and community college districts to borrow money for construction by selling bonds. But for the first time since California voters narrowly approved Proposition 39 in 2000 (lowering the voter approval threshold from 66.67% to 55% for educational bond measures), there is a semi-coordinated statewide effort (“Operation Close the Spigot”) to oppose some of the most egregious bond measures by moving beyond the message “it’s for the kids” and providing some real accountability for performance. There is even an aggressive, well-funded locally-based opposition campaign (led by the San Diego County Taxpayers Association) to defeat an exceptionally foolish bond measure in San Diego.

Sacramento City Unified School District wants voter approval through Measures Q and R to sell another $414 million in bonds to add to its existing $522 million bond debt. West Contra Costa Unified School District (based in Richmond) wants voter approval through Measure E to sell another $360 million in bonds to add to its existing $1.77 billion bond debt. Solano Community College District wants voter approval through Measure Q to sell another $348 million in bonds to add to its existing $180 million bond debt. And San Diego Unified School District wants voter approval through Proposition Z to sell another $2.8 billion in bonds to add to its existing $4.7 billion bond debt.

Why are construction unions and their unionized contractor allies providing significant funding to the campaigns in support of these four ballot measures? It’s not because they love the kids; it’s because the elected boards of these fiscally irresponsible, mismanaged educational districts require their construction contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions as a condition of working on projects funded by bond sales previously authorized by district voters.

In July 2011, the National University System’s Institute for Policy Research in San Diego published a comprehensive study showing that California school construction projects cost 13% to 15% higher when the district requires contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions. (The study is titled Measuring the Cost of Project Labor Agreements on School Construction in California.)

I’ve written extensively about these four union-backed bond measures – here are the most recent articles about each one:

  • Who’s Paying to Convince Sacramento Voters to Take On $414 Million of Additional Debt – Plus Interest – with Measures Q and R?
  • $652,650 Contributed to Measure E Campaign: West Contra Costa Unified School District Seeks to Borrow Another $360 Million “For the Children of West County”
  • Updated Chart! Who’s Paying to Convince Solano County Voters to Take On $348 Million of Additional Debt – Plus Interest – with Measure Q?
  • ONE San Francisco Investment Banker Is Funding About 20% of the Yes on Proposition Z Campaign for San Diego Unified School District to Borrow $2.8 Billion Through Bond Sales

As I reported in my www.UnionWatch.org article Construction Unions Could Grab Billions Through Education Bonds, Oakland Unified School District and East Side Union High School District will surely require their contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions for projects funded by bond measures on the November 2012 ballot. Other districts such as the Rancho Santiago Community College District may also attempt to cut bid competition and increase costs for the benefit of union special interests.

Keep in mind that every California taxpayer pays for the union-controlled construction in these educational districts. The State Allocation Board regularly provides matching grants for construction projects with proceeds from bond sales authorized by three past statewide propositions (Kindergarten-University Public Education Facilities Bond Acts) totaling $35.8 billion. Union officials believe in “trickle-down economics” when your taxes “trickle down” to their operational and political funds.

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.

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.