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Unions Foiled in Plot to Evade Open Government Law

It’s rare to see a California local government rescind a vote. But on October 4, 2016, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to rescind a controversial and probably illegal vote taken three weeks earlier to satisfy the political demands of construction unions.

Rescind Project Labor Agreement Vote - San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors - October 4, 2016

Rescind Project Labor Agreement Vote – San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors – October 4, 2016

On September 13, the board had voted 3-2 to direct staff to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with construction trade unions for a $41 million county hospital expansion. Organizations that defend fair and open bid competition for public contracts were caught by surprise. There was nothing on the September 13, 2016 meeting agenda to indicate board discussion – let alone action – concerning a government-mandated Project Labor Agreement.

But some people seemed to know a vote would happen. Union officials and activists attended the September 13 meeting and called on the Board of Supervisors to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement. At least one Supervisor was ready to make a motion for it even though the proposal was introduced to the board via public comment.

In addition to undermining the public interest, the vote appeared to be illegal. Under the California Ralph M. Brown Act, an elected governing board cannot vote on items without notifying the public in advance that such items will be considered for action. This is a basic principle of open and transparent government.

But having a law and actually enforcing it are sometimes two different things. Frequently the public encounters insurmountable challenges in making California local governments accountable for violating what’s commonly called “the Brown Act.” In this case, opponents of government-mandated Project Labor Agreements needed persistence and determination to confirm the illegal action and get it rectified.

A video record of the meeting posted on the county website after the meeting strangely cut off before the vote, thereby depriving the public of a source to prove what had happened. A reporter who covered the September 13 Board of Supervisors meeting for the local newspaper insisted that the board had not taken a vote to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement. Members of the public trying to obtain draft meeting minutes were frustrated by what seemed to be bureaucratic delays.

Yet there was one reliable witness at the meeting who was paying close attention to the proceedings. This witness was sure that a 3-2 vote had been taken specifically to authorize staff to negotiate a union Project Labor Agreement to include as a bid specification for the San Joaquin General Hospital Phase 2 Acute Care Patient Wing Expansion Project.

Eventually, the county was able to restore the video to completeness and provide the order of the board. It was indeed a vote directing staff to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement with unions, with the agreement to come back for ratification at the September 27 board meeting. (Allowing only two weeks for “negotiations” of a major labor relations contract suggests that union officials and some county supervisors were going to pressure staff to hastily sign off on a standard boilerplate agreement that unions typically introduce at the start of negotiations.)

The plot was now proven. A coalition of organizations banded together and hired a law firm to send a letter to the Board of Supervisors demanding that the vote be nullified. Meanwhile, the Board of Supervisors cancelled its September 27 meeting for unknown reasons. Then the Board of Supervisors scheduled an agenda item at the October 4 meeting to rescind the original September 13 vote.

San Joaquin County Administration Building Evacuation - October 4, 2016

Evacuating the San Joaquin County Administration Building on a beautiful fall day.

But supporters of fair and open bid competition on taxpayer-funded contracts even struggled at the October 4 board meeting to get that 5-0 vote to correct the apparently illegal action. Hundreds of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) activists repeatedly disrupted and delayed the meeting to express displeasure with their own contract negotiations. When a representative of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction was speaking during public comment to urge the board to rescind their Project Labor Agreement vote, someone set off the fire alarm, resulting in the evacuation of the building.

In the past 20 years, the militant union activism and underhanded political tricks formerly concentrated in a few urban centers of California have rippled out 75 miles to places such as San Joaquin County. While many fiscal conservatives are fleeing the state or dying, those who choose to remain in California must monitor their local government agendas and make elected officials accountable when they violate the law for a special interest group.

Sources

September 26, 2016 Letter to San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors – Brown Act Violation – Project Labor Agreement Vote

October 4, 2016 San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors Meeting Agenda Item – Rescind Vote to Negotiate Project Labor Agreement

Union Creates Bedlam at San Joaquin Supervisors Meeting – Stockton Record – October 4, 2016


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.

Union In The News – Weekly Highlights

San Joaquin County workers strike
By Team Staff, July 5, 2016, ABC 10
The San Joaquin County workers union began their strike with a press conference and rally at the County Administration at noon Tuesday, July 5. Instead of reporting to work Tuesday morning, nearly 4,400 San Joaquin County workers — represented by SEIU 1021 — grabbed picket signs and shut down all County operations. They walked out on behalf of an Unfair Labor Practice strike, a method of protest that California labor law grants employees whose employer has violated the rules of collective bargaining. (read article)

Supreme Court term mixed bag for health care industry
By Lisa Shencker, July 5, 2016, Crain’s Chicago Business
Last year, healthcare leaders had their eyes trained on one big case – King v. Burwell – and they celebrated when the justices voted to uphold a key provision of the Affordable Care Act. This year wasn’t nearly so straightforward for healthcare leaders watching the Supreme Court, which wrapped up its latest term last week. At least half a dozen notable cases fragmented healthcare wonks’ attention. The outcomes of those cases left some in the industry cheering and others wringing their hands. Healthcare-related cases focused on abortion, the ACA’s contraception mandate, patents, unions, claims data and the False Claims Act, among other topics. And the mid-term death of Justice Antonin Scalia looks to have affected the outcomes of some of those cases. (read article)

Clinton’s charter school comments prompt boos at teachers union event
By Kimberly Hefling, July 5, 2016, Politico
Hillary Clinton on Tuesday said traditional public schools and charter schools should share ideas — a remark met with boos by delegates from the National Education Association’s representative assembly. To the thousands of teachers gathered at the labor union’s annual conference, Clinton said “when schools get it right, whether they are traditional public schools or public charter schools, let’s figure out what’s working … and share it with schools across America.” Some teachers in the audience booed. Clinton continued to preach cooperation. “We can do that,” she said. “We’ve got no time for all of these education wars.” (read article)

Clinton snags AFL-CIO official, former Sanders staffer, in labor outreach
By Amanda Becker, July 5, 2016, Reuters
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has hired two people with close ties to U.S. organized labor to try to lock down support from union members as Republican candidate Donald Trump makes courting working-class voters central to his campaign. The two new staffers, Lori D’Orazio and Michele Gilliam, are to be deputy labor campaign directors, according to a campaign aide. D’Orazio is moving to the campaign from the biggest U.S. labor federation, the AFL-CIO. Gilliam is a former staffer for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who was Clinton’s fiercest primary competitor. (read article)

Trump’s anti-trade rhetoric rattles the campaign message of Clinton and unions
By David Nakamura & David Weigel, July 4, 2016, Washington Examiner
Three dozen union workers gathered outside city hall here on Thursday to rally against the global free-trade deals they believe have harmed Americans like them. Their candidate was Katie McGinty, the Democrats’ nominee for Senate in Pennsylvania. But their spiritual leader was Republican Donald Trump.“He recognized there’s some problems we need to solve,” said McGinty, who is challenging Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R), a free-trade advocate. “One, we have to stop bad trade agreements. . . . And two, we have to take the Chinese on when they manipulate their currency and dump goods in our markets.” Just two days earlier, Trump had delivered a blistering speech at an aluminum recycling plant near Pittsburgh in which he called U.S. trade policies a ­“politician-made disaster” that has betrayed the working class. (read article)

Teachers Unions Defeat Education Reform in California — Again
By Susan Berry, June 30, 2016, Breitbart News
This week, California teachers unions defeated a bill that attempted to address the process by which teachers are retained and fired in the state. Assembly Bill 934, introduced by former teacher Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Cncord), fell short of the five votes needed for approval to pass out of committee. The measure, in its original form, would have provided school officials with more time to assess less competent teachers prior to giving them full job protections, or tenure. The legislation would have also accelerated the termination process for teachers who were referred for professional support to improve their skills, yet failed to do so. (read article)

California bullet train, Delta tunnels: Jerry Brown’s pet projects face threat from ballot measure
By Paul Rogers, June 30, 2016, Mercury News
Two of Gov. Jerry Brown’s favorite projects — building a high-speed rail system and a pair of massive tunnels under the Delta — face a serious threat if California voters pass a measure heading for the November ballot. The “No Blank Checks Initiative,” bankrolled with $4.5 million from Stockton farmer and businessman Dean Cortopassi, would require a public vote on any state project in which $2 billion or more in revenue bonds would be issued. And since both the bullet train and twin-tunnels projects would most likely require that kind of financing, voters could ultimately get a chance to decide their fate. Although it has received less attention than many of the others, Cortopassi’s measure could be the most significant in the long term and have a huge impact on the governor’s legacy. It’s also setting up a major battle involving taxpayer groups on one side and labor unions and business organizations on the other. (read article)

UPS, pilots union reach tentative deal on five-year labor contract
By Chris Otts, June 30, 2016, WDRB
After more than two years of mediation, UPS Airlines and its pilot union have reached a tentative agreement on a new five-year labor contract. UPS and the Independent Pilots Association announced the agreement in a press release Thursday. They did disclose the specifics of the contract, which needs to be ratified by a majority vote of the pilots union’s 2,600 members. “The comprehensive agreement provides for improvements across all sections of the contract,” the parties said in the release.  The union’s last contract with UPS ran through Dec. 31, 2011 and the two sides had been trying to reach a new labor agreement since. In March 2014, the talks moved to mediation before the National Mediation Board, a U.S. government agency. Sticking points included wages, healthcare, pensions and flight scheduling, among other issues. (read article)

Christen: Project Labor Agreements are bad for Santa Clara County taxpayers
By Eric Christen, June 29, 2016, Mercury News
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors once again has voted to require all construction contractors, workers and apprentices to effectively be union in order to work on county financed projects. They did this by mandating that a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) be “agreed” to with trade unions as a condition of building county funded projects. The supervisors approved a PLA policy for contracts $10 million and above five years ago but in June voted to lower that threshold to $2 million. Apparently, too many projects are still getting built by nonunion labor, so big labor special-interests demanded the supervisors just give them a monopoly on everything. (read article)

Historic Agreement Paves Way for Alliance Between Labor and Environmentalists
By Tom Dalzell, June 29, 2016, Huffington Post 
For too long, the interests of labor and environmental groups have cleaved through the Democratic Party. The transition to clean energy has stressed this relationship further: as carbon-based sources of power come under fire, the union jobs that go along with them (workers at power plants) are being replaced by low-wage, non-union positions (think solar panel installers, who frequently make minimum wage). This trend has contributed to the hollowing out of the middle class, and has been watched with unease by those concerned with income inequality. That’s why last week’s agreement to phase out the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant – and take care of the workers there – is historic. It provides a new model for labor and environmentalists – one that provides green power without tossing aside middle-class jobs. (read article)

Labor Watch: ‘Release Time’ Forces Taxpayers to Pay for Union Work: In effect, you’re paying union dues when you pay your taxes
By CRC Staff, June 29, 2016, Capital Research Center
A case argued recently before the U.S. Supreme Court threw a spotlight on one of the worst abuses committed by government-employee unions and their allies: the practice of union officials charging taxpayers for time they spend on union business. Justice Antonin Scalia was expected to provide the crucial fifth vote for plaintiffs in the case. After Scalia’s death in February, the vote was tied at 4 to 4, which leaves the lower court’s pro-union/anti-worker ruling in effect. Unions had prepared for the expected loss by putting money aside. Now that money can be used to get pro-union politicians elected in 2016 and beyond. In These Times, a socialist/union publication, reported that “the ‘rainy day’ savings that many unions made in anticipation of an adverse decision can now be used as a ‘Scalia Dividend’ to be invested in new campaigns.” (read article)

California judge blocks move to cap hospital executive pay
By Barrett Newkirk, June 29, 2016, The Desert Sun
A state judge has blocked a labor union’s effort for a ballot initiative asking California voters to cap hospital executive pay at $450,000. Sacramento Superior Court Judge David Brown sided with the California Hospital Association when he ruled June 23 that SEIU United Healthcare Workers West’s support for the measure violated an agreement between the union and hospital association. The SEIU in May submitted nearly 650,000 signatures to the California Secretary of State’s Office with the hope of getting the question before voters in November. If approved, the measure would have forbid California hospitals from paying top executives more than $450,000, the same annual salary as the president of the United States. (read article)

Teachers Union and Hedge Funds War Over Pension Billions
By Brody Mullin, June 28, 2016, The Wall Street Journal
Daniel Loeb, Paul Singer and dozens of other hedge-fund managers have poured millions of dollars into promoting charter schools in New York City and into groups that want to revamp pension plans for government workers, including teachers. The leader of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, sees some of the proposals, in particular the pension issue, as an attack on teachers. She also has influence over more than $1 trillion in public-teacher pension plans, many of which traditionally invest in hedge funds. It is a recipe for a battle for the ages. Ms. Weingarten started by targeting hedge-fund managers she deemed a threat to teachers and urged unions to yank money from their funds. Then she moved to Wall Street as a whole. Her union federation is funding a lobbying campaign to eliminate the “carried-interest” tax rate on investment income earned by many money managers. (read article)

Supreme Court denies rehearing to major union case
By Sean Higgins, June 28, 2016, Washington Examiner
The Supreme Court on Tuesday denied the plaintiffs in the case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association a rehearing, ending the possibly that the court will re-examine whether public sector unions should have the right to force payment from workers who do not wish to be members. The case had once been one of the most high-profile of the Supreme Court’s current term, with many legal observers thinking it could fundamentally rewrite labor law, weakening unions in the process. Instead, the court announced in April it was deadlocked, 4-4, in the case. That meant a lower court ruling upholding current law allowing unions to demand the fees would stand. (read article)

Labor unions file lawsuit challenging ‘right-to-work’ law
By Associative Press, June 28, 2016, Herald-Dispatch
Labor unions from around the state have filed petitions in Kanawha Circuit Court challenging West Virginia’s new “right-to-work” law as an illegal taking of union property and resources. The lawsuit, filed Monday by 11 unions, contends that the Workplace Freedom Act is intended to discourage union membership by “enabling nonmembers of unions to get union services for free,” reported the Charleston Gazette-Mail reports. The law was vetoed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. However, it was enacted into law by override votes in the House of Delegates. The legislation allows employees in union shops to opt out of paying union dues. One intent of the law, according to the lawsuit, is to discourage employees from joining unions. (read article)