Unions Defend California High-Speed Rail Project at Congressional Hearing

Unions Defend California High-Speed Rail Project at Congressional Hearing

On May 28, 2013, the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure for the U.S. House of Representatives held a field hearing in Madera, California on oversight of the California High-Speed Rail project.

Unlike San Francisco, where 78.4% of voters approved Proposition 1A in November 2008 to authorize borrowing $9.95 billion through bond sales to fund the project, Madera County is farm country in the San Joaquin Valley, where the reception to the bullet train is generally hostile. Signs at the entrance to the Madera Community College Center, where the hearing was held, criticized the project and its Congressional supporters.

I had predicted in a couple of tweets that unions would have a strong, supportive presence at the committee hearing. That was indeed the case.

And when Congressman Jim Costa began his introductory remarks, he entered into the record a thick collection of letters in support of the project.

You can read the 120 pages of letters here: Support Letters – California High-Speed Rail – May 28, 2013 Congressional Field Hearing in Madera. The package isn’t as impressive when you discover that most of the letters are from union officials, and most of the letters are the same boilerplate language.

Nevertheless, the letters indicate why construction trade unions were among the biggest financial supporters of Proposition 1A in 2008 and remain among the strongest supporters today: “let’s create those jobs and get to work now.” And we are told “we simply can’t afford not to start building High-Speed Rail now.”

The main argument against California High-Speed Rail is that we simply can’t afford to build it. And the Project Labor Agreement that construction companies large and small will have to sign with unions as a condition of working on this project will increase the cost, if studies and anecdotes about Project Labor Agreements in California are an accurate indication of what happens when unions get a government-mandated monopoly on construction.

A union official told KSEE Channel 24 news in Fresno that the project was an opportunity to create jobs. But Nicole Goehring of the Northern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors also told KSEE Channel 24 news that those jobs were going to be union-only because of the Project Labor Agreement, which was imposed without public discussion or a vote of the board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. See Proposed High Speed Rail Plans Face Challenges.

For the boring but accurate details about the California High-Speed Rail Project Labor Agreement (aka Community Benefits Agreement), see my Analysis of the Phony Community Benefits and Other Provisions in the Union Project Labor Agreement for the First Segment of California’s High-Speed Rail.

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.

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