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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.

Another Year Brings New Project Labor Agreements for Education Construction

Another year brings another rush of costly union construction monopolies to K-12 school districts and community college districts in California.

Consider that voters in 2012 authorized 115 California educational districts to borrow a grand total of $15,266,651,190 ($15.3 billion) by selling bonds to investors, and you can see why schools are such an alluring target for special interest groups with special friends in elected office. (This amount does not include state matching grants to be funded from the $35.8 billion in bond sales authorized by voters in the mid-2000s.)

As readers of www.UnionWatch.org generally recognize, elected board members of K-12 and community college districts in the state’s major metropolitan areas often have political goals and ideological visions far more ambitious than simply overseeing a district that efficiently builds schools at the best price for taxpayers and students.

Educational districts are therefore typically easy pickings for union officials to lobby for Project Labor Agreements and get control of work without having to earn it.

Here are the latest setbacks for fair and open bid competition on taxpayer-funded educational construction in California:

The school board of the El Monte Union High School District is expected to vote at its March 6, 2013 meeting to require construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council in order to work on projects funded by borrowed money from Measure D, a $148 million bond measure approved by district voters in November 2008. This union deal was originally pushed in 2011 by a school board member seeking election to the California State Assembly; he ultimately dropped out of the race and resigned his board seat. For more information, see After 20 Months of Antics, Board of El Monte Union High School District Poised to Require Contractors to Sign a Project Labor Agreement.

At its February 12, 2013 meeting, the school board of the Lynwood Unified School District voted to require construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council in order to work on projects funded by borrowed money from Measure K, a $93 million bond measure barely approved by 57% of district voters in November 2012. For more information, see Lynwood Unified School District’s Bond-Funded Construction Falls to a Project Labor Agreement.

The board of the Ohlone Community College District(within the cities of Fremont, Newark, and Union City) voted on February 13, 2013 to require construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County in order to work on 16 projects or categories of projects, totaling $265 million, funded by borrowed money obtained from bond sales authorized by the $349 million Measure G, approved by district voters in November 2010. In the 2000s, the district had managed to build projects under the $150 million Measure A (approved by voters in March 2002) without a union monopoly, but the board is more enlightened now. See Another California Community College District to Give Unions a Monopoly on Bond-Funded Construction: Project Labor Agreement at Ohlone Community College District.

Some people in Solano County expected the Solano College Governing Board to waste money on union schemes and other nonsense.

On February 6, 2013, the Governing Board of the Solano Community College District heard a staff report about requiring construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the Napa-Solano Building and Construction Trades Council as a condition of working on projects funded by proceeds from $348 million in bond sales authorized in November 2012 by 63.52% of Solano County voters as Measure Q. Representatives of construction trade associations and the local Central Solano Citizen/Taxpayer Group spoke against the proposal. A vote is expected at a meeting in March. See Governing Board for Solano Community College District in California Hears Debate Over Project Labor Agreement on $348 Million Bond Measure Q.

Why are K-12 school districts and community college districts so bold about imposing these government-mandated union agreements for construction? The problem seemed to begin with the enactment of Proposition 39, a statewide ballot measure approved by 53.4% of voters in November 2000.

That statewide ballot measure reduced the vote percentage needed to pass bond measures authorizing bond sales from 66.67% (two-thirds) to 55 percent under certain conditions. It virtually guaranteed voter authorization of bond sales in the state’s major metropolitan areas and began California’s massive accumulation of debt for educational construction at the state and local levels of government.

The success rate for approval of individual bond measures in November 2012 was 86%, and the success rate for approval of the total dollar amount of proposed bond sales in November 2012 was 92%. It’s evident that voters in a general election will almost always authorize educational districts to borrow money through bond sales. Educational districts don’t need to worry about how they spend the money.

One could argue that the same lack of accountability that leads to government-mandated Project Labor Agreements is also the basis for foolish sales of Capital Appreciation Bonds, the shameless awarding of financial and service contracts to donors to bond campaigns, and the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars of borrowed money on iPads (another practice authorized by Proposition 39).

Despite valiant investigative research and reporting from new media electronic publications such as www.CalWatchdog.com, www.VoiceofSanDiego.org, www.CaliforniaWatch.org, and www.UnionWatch.org, few people know about these issues, few people understand these issues, and few people care about these issues. The taxing and spending goes on, and unions and their leadership remain primary beneficiaries.

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.

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.