Unions Try to Monopolize California's Global Warming Solutions

California’s quest to end global climate change is inspiring many obscure, complicated, and costly regulations. And when state executive branch agencies propose new regulations to save the planet, unions are there with their own agendas.

California Can’t Let Just Anyone Check Your Dimmer Switches

The 2013 revisions to California’s Building Energy Efficiency Standards (in the California Building Standards Code, California Code of Regulations, Title 24) include new requirements for commercial buildings to reduce electricity use through lighting controls. Examples of such controls include dimmers, automatic daylight controls, occupant sensing controls, and timers.

How does the state ensure compliance with these standards? After an electrical contractor installs these lighting control systems, a professional, certified field technician must test them and produce documentation confirming that the systems work and conform with the Building Energy Efficiency Standards.

These field technicians must be trained and certified through “Lighting Controls Acceptance Test Technician Certification Providers.” Programs interested in becoming providers submit applications to the California Energy Commission to show they fulfill the requirements to be a legitimate source of technician training and certification.

Dimmer Switches Were Supposed to Brighten the Future for Unions

Government-regulated certification can benefit the public, but it is also vulnerable to political manipulation by interest groups who see it as a mechanism to control who and how many people are employed in an occupation. For example, construction trade unions have long used the California Apprenticeship Council and other executive branch agencies to resist potential training competition from Merit Shop associations, individual contractors, and even from other unions trying to expand their trade jurisdiction.

At the California Energy Commission, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union has openly declared for years that its California Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program (CALCTP) should have a monopoly on training and certifying workers who test lighting controls for commercial buildings. As far back as November 3, 2011, the State Association of Electrical Workers/International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers submitted a letter to the California Energy Commission insisting on this monopoly:

On behalf of the State Association of Electrical Workers/International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, I write to urge the commission to require all advanced lighting controls related acceptance testing and documentation to be performed by California certified general electricians who are also certified by the California Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program (CALCTP), and who are performing the work while employed by a California contractor who holds a CALCTP contractor certification, and that these acceptance testing and documentation forms be modified by providing a space for the electrician and the contractor to each write his/her name, and to each attach a copy of their appropriate CALCTP certification documentation.

Providing studies and comments as academic cover for the CALCTP quest for a monopoly on lighting controls testing certification is the Donald Vial Center on Employment in the Green Economy, a project of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, affiliated with the University of California Center for Labor Research and Education, and part of the University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Program. This state university labor institute is a descendent of a “union think tank” established in 2000 by the California legislature and Governor Gray Davis at the behest of the California Labor Federation.

Headquarters of the National Lighting Contractors Association of America is in Signal Hill, California.

Headquarters of the National Lighting Contractors Association of America is in Signal Hill, California.

Now the IBEW has competition. A Merit Shop organization not affiliated with a union called the National Lighting Contractors Association of America (NLCAA) submitted an application to the California Energy Commission to become a Lighting Controls Acceptance Test Technician Certification Provider.

Even more shocking for the unions, the California Energy Commission placed approval of the NLCAA program on its July 22, 2014 meeting agenda – with a memorandum from the Executive Director recommending approval – while the IBEW program was still tangled up in the application process.

This echoed the outcome of previous efforts of union officials to push for regulations meant to give them control of the workforce. For example, the IBEW began a multi-year push in 1999 to impose electrician certification in California that would allow them to gain control of the trade, but it found itself outsmarted and outmaneuvered by the more nimble, more innovative Merit Shop. And while the IBEW and other unions argued for years over jurisdiction for apprenticeship training in solar photovoltaic system installation, a Merit Shop contractor circumvented the system and simply applied for and won approval from the state to operate its own solar photovoltaic installation apprenticeship program.

There Ought to Be Lawyers. Quick, Send in the Lawyers

Now the Merit Shop was outwitting the unions again. The IBEW had to suppress the competition, quickly and decisively. They turned to the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo – the law firm of choice nowadays for construction unions that use the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to delay projects as a way to pressure the owner to sign a Project Labor Agreement or agree to other economic concessions that benefit the unions.

To stop approval of the NLCAA program, the IBEW and its lawyers simply adopted the same basic strategies they use to delay projects through CEQA. They exploited the statutory provisions for public review and comment by claiming insufficient time for review. Then they submitted an extensive set of objections right at the deadline so that the agency didn’t have enough time to review them. And just like what they do with environmental review documents, they nitpicked the NLCAA application to identify and cite every possible weakness that a judge might recognize as a meritorious basis for a time-consuming, expensive lawsuit.

The saga began on July 11, 2014, when the California Energy Commission publicly posted its agenda for its July 22 meeting. It included this seemingly routine item:

11. APPROVAL OF NATIONAL LIGHTING CONTRACTORS ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA TO BECOME AN ACCEPTANCE TEST TECHNICIAN CERTIFICATION PROVIDER. Possible approval of the National Lighting Contractors Association of America (NLCAA) as a Lighting Acceptance Test Technician Certification Provider (ATTCP). This will allow NLCAA to train and certify field technicians and employers on the Building Energy Efficiency Standards lighting control acceptance tests.

On July 17, an official with the California Energy Commission contacted the Vice President of Training for the National Lighting Contractors Association of America with some bad news:

To follow up on our conversation the Standards Section 10-103-A(f)2 requires the Commission to give all interested persons a copy of the evaluation report used in your application to become a ATTCP.  This Section also requires the Commission to give these interested persons reasonable time to review the evaluation.

The Business Meeting Agenda was posted on Friday July 11th in the late afternoon.  The Commission received notice Friday evening from a interested person that they wanted a copy of the evaluation report.

After lengthy discussions with management, legal, and our commissioners it was determined that a reasonable amount of time could not be given to the interested persons before the July 22 Business Meeting.

For this reason your item is being taken off the July 22 Business Meeting to afford adequate time for the interested party to review NLCAA’s evaluation report.

I am sorry for any inconvenience that has caused you, your business and contractors anticipating NLCAA’s approval.

A training executive with Associated Builders and Contractors sent an email to the California Energy Commission expressing concern about this mysterious development:

NLCAA has followed and met all of the application requirements and been approved to go forward to the final requirement of the application process.  Any delays in their approval will result in major negative financial impacts on our over 100 electrical contractor members, their employees and numerous other nonunion electrical contractors who need to have this certification in order to complete their current and future construction projects and meet the new state Lighting Certification requirements.

If the NLCAA’s application is removed from the Commission’s agenda, what is to stop another “interested party” from making another request to review NLCAA’s application the next time it is on the agenda, which would cause it to be removed and what would prevent this cycle from starting all over again and again and again.  Anyone can review the NLCAA’s application, but these third party reviews are not an official part of the application process and should have no impact on Commission’s approval process.

As the attached documents show, Director’s Ashuckian, Oglesby and others, after a very in depth and detailed review by their respective staffs, have previously endorsed the NLCAA as meeting the state’s requirements for an ATTCP and that their application should be accepted.

It took a week for the NLCAA to be informed by the California Energy Commission of what party derailed its scheduled approval by taking advantage of regulatory provisions regarding public review. Of course, the inquiry was from the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo, which represents the California Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program (CALCTP) affiliated with the IBEW union. CALCTP scrambled to get its application posted by the California Energy Commission for public review, which happened on August 1, 2014. This began three months of antics as CALCTP lawyers and lobbyists tried to get the California Energy Commission to approve its program while rejecting the NLCAA program.

On August 19, 2014, the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo provided the California Energy Commission with several pages of petty objections to the approval of the NLCAA competing program. Obviously the IBEW was setting the stage for a lawsuit against the California Energy Commission if it approved the NLCAA program. Meanwhile, the NLCAA identified numerous petty deficiencies in the CALCTP application but chose not to stoop to the tactics of its competition by commenting on them.

Items to approve of both programs were placed on the August 27, 2014 meeting agenda of the California Energy Commission but then removed on August 26. They were not even addressed on the September 10 agenda. Then both items were placed on the October 7 agenda.

Late on the afternoon of October 6, the IBEW/NECA California State Labor Management Cooperation Committee emailed ten pages of objections to approval of the NLCAA program. In response, California Energy Commission staff advised the commissioners at the October 7 meeting to delay considering approval of the NLCAA program so they could analyze the last-minute submission of union objections to the Merit Shop program.

Commissioners chose to table approval of the NLCAA program, but to their credit they also tabled approval of the CALCTP program. Public testimony at the meeting from professional lobbyists and union officials revealed the true nature of the dispute: the IBEW believes it should control who and how many people become certified as lighting control field technicians.

Public Implications of This Obscure Battle Over the Authority to Certify Lighting Controls Testers

An ordinary California resident might ask how the people of California benefit from this union-provoked controversy about who gets to train and certify workers who test lighting control systems. Unless the programs are deficient under the state’s regulations, what is the public interest in delaying approval? Workers want to be trained, commercial building owners need to comply with the law, and climate change activists seek to reduce electricity use.

What is particularly confounding is how the state’s public utilities are connected to all of this. The CALCTP is operated by the California State Labor Management Cooperation Committee for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractors Association (LMCC/IBEW-NECA), but various entities are alleged to work in “collaboration” with it. These collaborators include Southern California Edison (SCE), Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP).

In effect, California public utilities are working with the IBEW to cut competition, restrict choice in training, and make testing of lighting controls for commercial building developers more difficult and more expensive.


The Exploited Regulation: 2013 California Building Energy Efficiency Standards 10-103-A – NONRESIDENTIAL LIGHTING CONTROLS ACCEPTANCE TEST TRAINING AND CERTIFICATION

2013 California Building Energy Efficiency Standards

California Building Standards Code – California Code of Regulations, Title 24

National Lighting Contractors Association of America (NLCAA)

California Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program (CALCTP)

Public Utilities in “Collaboration” with CALCTP

California Energy Commission Staff Evaluation Reports on Applications for Lighting Controls Acceptance Test Technician Certification Providers, and Public Comments on the Applications

November 3, 2011 Letter from State Association of Electrical Workers/International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Seeking a Monopoly on Lighting Controls Test Technician Certification

Donald Vial Center on Employment in the Green Economy – Union-Oriented Studies and Comments on Certification of Acceptance Testing Field Technicians for Lighting Controls 

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 Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.


Now in California: Nation's Most Prominent Union-Oriented Prevailing Wage Scholar

A leading intellectual advocate for government policies that favor and benefit construction trade unions is on sabbatical from his home university and spending several months in proximity to one of California’s union-oriented labor institutes, the Institute for Labor and Employment (an affiliate of the Miguel Contreras Labor Program) based at the University of California, Berkeley.

IMG_5333Over the past 20 years, University of Utah economics professor Peter Philips has become the nation’s preeminent academic in support of government-mandated construction wage rates (so-called “prevailing wage”). Construction union leaders appreciate his studies that purport to show that prevailing wage did not increase the cost of school construction in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and other states in the 1990s. In addition, they appreciate his testimony before state legislative committees and local governments throughout the country. His article about prevailing wage in British Columbia was published this month, and his article about prevailing wage (“common wage”) in Indiana is supposed to be published in January 2015.

Some of his recent work has argued that California’s charter cities do not benefit from using their constitutional authority to enact municipal prevailing wage policies that deviate from state prevailing wage law. His study entitled The Effect of Prevailing Wage Regulations on Contractor Bid Participation and Behavior: A Comparison of Palo Alto, California with Four Nearby Prevailing Wage Municipalities was published in Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, described as “the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment’s top-ranked academic journal.”

(For a response to this article, see the article Journal Article on Prevailing Wage Debunked, But Only Outside Academia and my analysis entitled University of Utah Study on Government-Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Policies in Five California Cities: Not a Reliable Tool for Policymakers. Also, see Are Charter Cities Taking Advantage of State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Exemptions? – 4th Edition.)

Professor Philips has also written studies on other construction labor issues. For example, he released The Economic and Environmental Impact of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in March 2013, when the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California was opposing proposed changes to environmental laws that would hinder their ability to exploit these laws to obtain Project Labor Agreements from developers. This study was reported in in the article Opponents of CEQA Reform Cite New Study with Union Connections(For examples of this practice of environment permit extortion, or “greenmail,” see the article Revised List of Union Actions in 2013 Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).)

Professor Philips reports that his study on the employment impact of solar power plant construction in California will be released in November 2014, in conjunction with a press conference in Oakland featuring the Sierra Club, Obama Administration officials, and construction union leaders. Most solar developers in California have signed Project Labor Agreements with construction unions to avoid delays caused by union objections to the projects under the California Environmental Quality Act. (See the articles Unions Extensively Interfere with California Solar Photovoltaic Power Plant Permitting and Did Unions Hasten Demise of California’s Solar Thermal Power Plants?)

On October 13, 2014, Professor Philips was the lecturer for a colloquium at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley entitled Prevailing Wage Laws in Construction: Wage Mandates as a Means of Promoting Collective Bargaining. Attendees appeared to be predominately graduate students and labor institute personnel, although a researcher of the union-affiliated organization Smart Cities Prevail was also there.

I reserved a spot in advance for myself, as instructed in the announcement for the colloquium, and no one hassled me about being there. In fact, Professor Philips asked me a question at the end of the colloquium. I was able to make a few remarks at a forum where different views about the fundamental roles of government and unions are probably quite uncommon.

Here are some of my observations from the hour-long presentation on prevailing wage by Professor Philips.

    Labor Institute director Michael Reich introduces Professor Peter Philips.

    Labor Institute director Michael Reich introduces Professor Peter Philips.

  • Professor Philips was introduced by Michael Reich, Professor of Economics and Director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. They met in the 1970s in the very room where this colloquium was held 40 years later. Older generations seem to dominate the fading academic field of what was once called “industrial relations.”
  • Professor Philips genuinely believes in the “virtues” of collective bargaining and supports the concept of government intervention to encourage collective bargaining in the construction industry. He frequently refers to the development and support of “human capital” in a “turbulent” industry and believes unions fulfill that role by providing sustained employee benefits and training. One of his slides appeared to show a “Non-Union” maid throwing bathwater out the window with “human capital” in it. (A slide showing a union official throwing bathwater out the window with “taxpayer money” in it was not included in the presentation.)
  • He emphasized to the PhD students at the colloquium that “being effective” requires speaking and crossing three arenas: economic, legal, and political. This conforms to the contemporary idea of university labor institutes as not merely research operations, but activist programs meant to pursue advancement of society through a progressive political agenda. (Your tax money in action.)
  • He asserted that groups such as Associated Builders and Contractors (my former employer) and conservative think tanks claim to oppose government-mandated prevailing wages because of concern for fiscal responsibility, but in reality are motivated by a desire to eliminate government policies that allow unions and unionized contractors to be competitive. At the same time, he claims prevailing wage does not increase costs of construction. A few students asked about this apparent contradiction: why does government need to impose a prevailing wage to help unions if prevailing wage does not increase costs? In response, Professor Philips hedged his bets and suggested that prevailing wage raises the cost of construction about 5%. Then he claimed that prevailing wage opponents cite higher percentages of savings because 5% does not inspire elected officials to eliminate the policy.
  • He contended that “Merit Shop” was a much better “descriptor” for non-union construction than “non-union,” because in this system workers are paid “variegated” wages based on merit, rather than a common wage based on collective bargaining. (Obviously he does not regard this particular recognition of “merit” as beneficial to human capital.) He briefly discussed the rise of the Associated Builders and Contractors construction trade association from its founding in 1950 through its dramatic expansion in the 1970s as it worked with the Business Roundtable to curb inflation.
  • He contended that class lines were blurred in construction: someone who starts in the industry as an apprentice can become a company owner. This is a challenging statement for union activists and academic advocates of unionism who believe class consciousness is essential to establishing “workplace democracy” through collectivism. It reminded me of claims I’ve heard over 20 years from both union and non-union officials that the ultimate ambition of a union apprentice is to become a union business agent, while the ultimate ambition of a non-union apprentice is to become a company owner.
  • Professor Philips is critical of what he sees as non-union efforts to infect construction with “Taylorism,” that is, breaking the work process down into small distinct responsibilities within a mass production system. He sees “human capital” developed through comprehensive union-sponsored apprenticeship training as a contrast to Taylorism. He also describes the non-union business model as “myopic bidding,” which I took to mean narrow consideration for a specific project without consideration of long-term costs.

It seems that Professor Philips is spending some of his time in California working on a project to describe how the Merit Shop operates, with the intent of contrasting it to the alleged virtues of a collective workforce. Here’s how Professor Philips seems to perceive Merit Shop construction:

  • A large Merit Shop company has a core workforce of very-well-paid, exceptionally talented and motivated long-term employees who travel regionally to work on significant construction projects. Some of these workers participated in or graduated from union apprenticeship programs but ultimately become disgruntled with their unions for ideological reasons or personal grievances. They tend to be zealous backers of the Merit Shop movement.
  • Below these core workers are two systems: (1) workers hired through a traditional process of submitting resumes in order to perform single jobs and then casually released at the end of the project without health insurance or other benefits; and (2) an extensive “highly articulated” network of small non-union subcontractors, either self-employed or with a small number of loyal, closely-tied employees.
  • For training, Professor Philips claims that the Merit Shop wants government to provide subsidies to train workers in vocational programs, as opposed to choosing to fund worker training themselves through employer payments to formal apprenticeship programs.

While Professor Philips is in California, he would like to talk with some Merit Shop contractors about their business practices. Keeping in mind that Professor Philips has some presuppositions about labor relations (as all people have), you may contact me as an intermediary if you are interested in talking to him about your business.

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 Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.


University of California Releases SEIU-Funded Report Justifying SeaTac Wage Measure

Someday a member of the Board of Regents of the University of California will have the courage to suggest that hosting the Miguel Contreras Labor Program at the Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses compromises the academic credibility of the institution and taints the overall image of its research programs.

In the meantime, the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO and individual union entities continue to enjoy the public relations benefits of having the prestigious University of California name and logo on its propaganda operation. It probably isn’t a coincidence that the UC Labor Program often releases its reports and studies just before legislative votes on related bills and elections on related ballot measures.

On November 3, a media relations specialist in the University of California at Berkeley Office of Public Affairs posted a bulletin on the university’s News Center web site: “UC Berkeley Report Raises Alarm about Falling Wages, Outsourcing at U.S. Airports.”

It announced that “a new UC Berkeley study to be released” on Monday, November 4 reveals that “outsourcing of airport jobs that once sustained middle-class careers has left many airport workers in jobs characterized by insecurity and low wages…According to the authors, airports can take steps to address these wage declines.”

And what are those steps? The report “comes as voters in SeaTac, Wash., a city adjacent to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, consider a local ordinance that would set a $15-per-hour minimum wage for many airport and airport-related workers…”

That election was held on November 5. As of 9:00 p.m. Pacific Time, the Proposition 1 ballot measure was leading 54% to 46% in the vote count.

It’s unclear if the report – Course Correction: Reversing Wage Erosion to Restore Good Jobs at American Airports – made a difference for any voters, as it appears that none of the major news sources in the Seattle media market reported it. However, the Los Angeles Times published an article on November 4 about the ballot measure (Seattle Suburb to Vote on $15 Minimum Wage for Airport, Hotel Workers). It cited the report and quoted the report’s lead author, Ken Jacobs, the chairman of the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education (an affiliate of the University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Program).

Like the report itself, the Los Angeles Times article noted that the report was funded by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a major backer of the SeaTac Proposition 1. The Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW) is trying to organize contractors at Los Angeles International Airport and has even filed a lawsuit (SEIU-United Service Workers West v. City of Los Angeles, et al.) contending that the environmental review of the airport’s future construction plan violates the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

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 Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.