Will California Voters Reelect Supporters of Union Project Labor Agreements?
Election results for recent ballot measures in the cities of San Diego, Chula Vista, Oceanside, and El Cajon and in the County of San Diego confirm consistent poll results showing that California voters want their local government officials to solicit bids for taxpayer-funded construction contracts under fair and open competition. They don’t want their local governments to require their contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of winning a public contract.
But elected officials keep voting for government-mandated Project Labor Agreements. It’s the way to get union organizational and financial campaign support. And they assume voters will never hold them accountable for their votes at election time.
It takes a solid commitment of local activists and organizations to send an effective message to voters that certain elected officials are putting special interest groups ahead of prudent fiscal management. As campaigns get seriously underway for the November 6, 2012 elections, there are several movements afoot in California to make local elected officials accountable to voters for using the government to give unions a monopoly on taxpayer-funded construction.
Riverside Community College District’s Elected Board of Trustees
For example, a September 6, 2012 article by Dave Everett of the Southern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors in www.FlashReport.org (Cost Revealed for Takano & Medina Choosing Their Special Interest Friends Over Our Kids) reports on a plan to inform voters that two board members of the Riverside Community College District voted in March 2010 to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the San Bernardino and Riverside County Building and Construction Trades Council. The labor agreement applied to subsequent construction funded by Measure C, a $350 bond measure approved by voters six years earlier.
That government-mandated Project Labor Agreement was approved in a 3-2 vote – board members Jose Medina, Mark Takano, and Mary Figueroa in support, and Janet Green and Virginia Blumenthal opposed. Before the vote at the March 16 meeting, the three board members in support of the Project Labor Agreement made defiant speeches in support of unionism and their vision of social justice – a vision that excluded half of the 300 construction workers packing the auditorium. As you might guess, this was about upcoming elections.
Democrat Jose Medina ran for California State Assembly in 2010 and lost to the Republican incumbent. He has left the community college board and is again running for California State Assembly, in the open District 61 seat. Medina is endorsed by numerous labor unions.
Democrat Mark Takano is running for the open 41st Congressional District seat against Riverside County Supervisor and Republican John Tavaglione. The Riverside Press-Enterprise endorsed Tavaglione in the June 2012 primary and criticized Takano’s vote for the Project Labor Agreement in a May 2, 2010 editorial (INLAND: 1 for Congress):
Mark Takano, the other well-known candidate in this race, has a long tenure on the Riverside Community College District board. But Takano’s record and approach are more partisan and less collaborative than Tavaglione’s. And Takano in 2010 was one of three college board trustees who socked area taxpayers with an egregious project labor agreement. This needless giveaway inflated college district construction costs to curry favor with a special interest — hardly a compelling qualification for congressional service.
The Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction sponsored a full-page advertisement in the Riverside Press-Enterprise on June 4, 2012 informing readers about Takano’s vote.
Bond Measures in the West Contra Costa Unified School District, the Sacramento City Unified School District, and the San Diego Unified School District
The upcoming November 6, 2012 election brings a parade of California local school districts and community college districts asking the Victimized California Taxpayer to approve borrowing millions (or billions) of dollars through bond sales to pay for construction projects.
Some of the construction funded by these proposed bond measures will be managed by elected school board members who recognize their responsibility to spend taxpayers’ money wisely. They will ensure that their school districts seek reasonable interest rates for bonds and award construction contracts to companies under fair and open bid competition, without favoritism.
But three school districts proposing new bond measures to voters in November are notorious for fiscal irresponsibility and mismanagement. School boards in these three districts continually implement the costly demands of union officials, including the requirement that construction contractors sign Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) with unions as a condition of work. These school districts are the West Contra Costa Unified School District, the Sacramento City Unified School District, and the San Diego Unified School District.
- This is the seventh time since 1998 that the elected school board of the West Contra Costa Unified School District has asked voters to authorize borrowing money for school construction by selling bonds to investors. This time they want voter approval to borrow $360 million through Measure E. The board of the West Contra Costa Unified School District also has a policy in place to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions in the Contra Costa County Building and Construction Trades Council.
- The elected school board of the Sacramento City Unified School District wants voters to approve Measures Q and R so they can borrow $346 million for school construction by selling bonds to investors. In 2005, the board voted to require the district’s construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions in the Sacramento-Sierra Building and Construction Trades Council for projects funded by two bond measures previously approved by voters. The board renewed the Project Labor Agreement (with some amendments) in 2009.
- In the San Diego Unified School District, it isn’t enough for the elected school board that in 2008 voters approved the borrowing of $2.1 billion for school construction by selling bonds to investors. They want voters to approve another $2.8 billion in borrowing authority through Proposition Z. In 2009, the board voted to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions in the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council for projects funded by that 2008 bond measure. On July 24, 2012, the elected board voted 5-0 for a resolution expanding the scope of the Project Labor Agreement to projects funded by future bond measures.
Local taxpayer organizations – allied with grassroots community groups and local activists – have submitted ballot arguments and rebuttal arguments against these three proposed bond measures. I expect fierce campaigns in the next two months over these very costly proposals to borrow money for school construction by selling bonds to investors.
Kevin Dayton is the President and CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com.