When Union Officials Hold Office: An Infected Community College Board

When Union Officials Hold Office: An Infected Community College Board

In December 1997, the AFL-CIO implemented its “2000 in 2000” program to help elect union activists to public office. As the AFL-CIO reported in February 1999, “In 1998, we made progress toward our goal of putting 2,000 union members on the ballot in the year 2000. Over the next two years we will make a substantial effort to recruit, train, and assist union members running for office.”

Following that election, the AFL-CIO declared the 2000 in 2000 program as a success, with over 2500 union members holding elected office. It’s unclear if these union members were elected for the first time in 2000, or if the AFL-CIO simply managed to discover through surveys that more than 2500 union members were already in office.

It then launched the “Target 5000” program to get 5000 union members into elected office in 2002. The lack of triumphant AFL-CIO press releases about this program suggests it never achieved the goal of 5000 public office holders, but the dream of Target 5000 persisted at least through the 2004 elections. It is still referenced on web pages of the Massachusetts and Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.

In California, union officials are routinely elected to the California State Legislature and local government boards in the state’s major metropolitan areas. Union officials in elected office are particularly prevalent in Los Angeles, where Miguel Contreras improved the effectiveness of local election involvement of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO during his leadership from the mid-1990s through 2005.

Sometimes the union presence on elected boards is outrageously brazen. For example, the chairman of the board of the John Swett Unified School District (in the San Francisco Bay Area) presided over a February 10, 2009 vote for a Project Labor Agreement on future John Swett district school construction while wearing a T-shirt representing his employer, the Ironworkers Local Union No. 378. The chairman threatened to have police remove a man and a woman from the board room when they complained from the audience that he was applying a strict three-minute time limit on speakers opposed to the labor agreement, but allowing speakers in favor of the labor agreement to speak without a time limit. (In response, they walked out voluntarily.)

Other times, public exposure can at least compel a union official not to vote with self-interest on union-related business, such as when a board member recused himself from a vote for a Project Labor Agreement at the Contra Costa Community College District after the public revealed he had failed to submit his legally-required statement of economic interests and then failed to report income from his union employer. (See the October 15, 2012 www.UnionWatch.org article Unions Increase Control of California’s Community College Boards).

The latest controversy at a California local government related to a union official on an elected board is at the Allan Hancock Joint Community College District in Santa Barbara County. In November 2004, the business representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local Union No. 413 in Santa Barbara County was elected to the Allan Hancock College board of trustees.

Electrical contractors with employees not in a union have experienced continual difficulties bidding on college construction projects since his election. This shouldn’t be a surprise, considering an explicit objective on the home page of the IBEW Local Union No. 413 is “to organize all workers in the entire electrical industry…including all those in public utilities and electrical manufacturing, into local unions.”

Because many California electricians choose not to belong to a union and have the requisite work experience and test scores to obtain their state electrician certification, the IBEW Local Union No. 413 needs to pursue this objective by using the coercive power of government to restrict competitive bidding. Here’s a compilation of antics concerning taxpayer-funded construction at Allan Hancock College since November 2004, complete with documentation when available: 

January 2006: Contractor associations learned through inside sources that someone was agitating for the Allan Hancock College board of trustees to require its construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the Tri-County Building and Construction Trades Council. Contractors and organizations provided arguments to the college district against the proposal, and it did not come up for a vote.

December 2009: Shortly before a bid deadline, Allan Hancock College issued an addendum to bid specifications for the One-Stop Student Services Center. The addendum added “Enhanced Safety Requirements” that required 75 percent of the workforce of the general contractor and all subcontractors to be graduates of a California state-approved apprenticeship program. This was aimed at hindering bids from construction companies whose employees learned their trade and/or obtained state certification outside of the union training model.

Local contractors were incensed. Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of California coordinated with the Santa Maria Valley Contractors Association and the Western Electrical Contractors Association (WECA) to ask the college to extend the bid deadline and remove the “enhanced safety requirements” through a new addendum. College officials acknowledged the requirement was inappropriate and promptly issued an addendum removing the union-backed requirement and extending the bid deadline.

December 2010: At the direction of the IBEW board member at the November 16 meeting, the Allan Hancock College board of trustees held a “special meeting” on December 7 featuring a “Local Hire Preference Workshop” leading up to a vote at the December 14 meeting.  The workshop was intended to be “an exploration into a local preference hiring policy for capital construction projects,” but strangely the “exploration” did not include an invitation to contractors or contractor associations for participation. Nevertheless, contractors caught onto the plot, and representatives of the Santa Maria Valley Contractors Association and the San Luis Obispo County Builders Exchange spoke against the proposal in opposition to union officials supporting the proposal during public comment. One board member had warned the IBEW board member at the November 16 meeting that his occupation might create a conflict-of-interest, so people were aware that unions were behind the proposal. When the IBEW board member made a motion to approve the policy at the December 14 meeting, no one seconded the motion, and it failed.

See Labor Agreements Explored at Hancock Workshop – Santa Maria Times – December 8, 2012

The policy was similar to a policy previously proposed by the IBEW Union Local No. 413 to the California Space Authority (based in Santa Maria) and to the City of Lompoc. In addition, the Tri-County Building and Construction Trades Council was pushing at this time for an alleged local hiring policy (a “Local Jobs Construction Stabilization Agreement”) at the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors that was in reality an ordinary Project Labor Agreement. As shown in its December 2010 newsletter, the IBEW was concerned that non-union electrical contractors were winning numerous public works contracts in the Central Coast counties of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

October 2012: Allan Hancock College advertised for bids on Building “D” Repairs and Upgrades. Bid specifications included a requirement that any electrical installation worker on the job “must have completed an indentured IBEW/NECA apprenticeship program” (that is, a training program operated by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union).

Contractor representatives from the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), and the Western Electrical Contractors Association (WECA) objected via email to the union-only requirement and pointed out that it was unfair and illegal, but the college did not rescind the requirement. Here is how a college official explained the situation:

The District takes considerable care to establish requirements for the District’s construction projects that reflect the needs of each project and which incorporate requirements consistent with applicable law. Underlying this approach by the District are principles of fair and equal bidding opportunities for all prospective bidders, regardless of a bidder’s union or non-union affiliation.

The District was not aware of the restrictive electrician apprenticeship requirement incorporated into the specifications for the Building D Repairs and Upgrades Project until the issue was brought to the attention of the District on October 10, 2012. The District could not take the action requested by ABC in its October 10, 2012, communications (amendment of the specifications provisions limiting acceptable electrical apprenticeship programs) because those communications were sent and received after the opening of Bid Proposals on October 9, 2012.

District staff forwarded the October 10, 2012 ABC letter to counsel for review and response, including discussions with the Project architect and the architect’s electrical engineering consultant. Through that evaluation process and communications with the project design professionals who prepared the specifications, District staff and counsel concluded Monday afternoon that the specifications provision was unduly restrictive and that the restriction on acceptable electrical apprenticeship programs was inconsistent with applicable law. With that conclusion, District staff and counsel determined that the appropriate and proper action is to amend the recommendation for award of the contract for the Project. Rather, an amended recommendation will be presented to the Board of Trustees at the meeting tonight to the effect that: (i) the original bidding process incorporated a flawed electrical apprenticeship provision; (ii) the Board should take action rejecting all Bid Proposals; and (iii) District staff be authorized to re-bid the Project after correcting the electrical apprenticeship provision.

At the October 16 board meeting, a representative of the Western Electrical Contractors Association (WECA) asked the board to rebid the project without the union requirement that prevented electrical subcontractors from participating in the bidding. This request upset the board, as well as the contractor with the winning bid (the contractor incorporated a union electrical subcontractor). There was even a veiled threat that the board would impose a Project Labor Agreement on future construction if non-union contractors continued to hassle the college. Ultimately, the board gave college staff authorization to proceed with awarding the bid, unless one of the contractors’ associations refused to be understanding of the mistake and submitted an official objection.

First time fool me, shame on you – second time fool me, shame on me. Would an established business organization have the courage to refuse to play along and instead insist on what is right and fair? Yes! On October 24, 2012, WECA submitted its formal written objection against Allan Hancock College awarding the bid with the IBEW requirement in the specifications.

Obviously, the public will need to perpetually monitor the board agendas and the bid specifications for contracts at Allan Hancock College, as long as someone on the board holds a vocational goal “to organize all workers in the entire electrical industry… into local unions.” As the AFL-CIO intended through the “2000 in 2000” and “Target 5000” programs, that board member is merely doing his job for his union. Meanwhile, the people need to do their job of seeing their interests properly represented at their own community college district.

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.

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