A Thoroughly Documented History of How Solano Community College Requires Contractors to Sign a Project Labor Agreement with Unions

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Measure Q is on the November 6, 2012 ballot in Solano County. It authorizes the Solano County Community College District Governing Board to borrow $348 million for construction by selling bonds. Taxpayers will pay back the bonds, with interest and financial transaction fees.

Anyone planning to vote on Measure Q should take a look at the 20-event history below and examine the linked primary source documents. It shows how six of the seven members of the Solano Community College Governing Board in 2003 and 2004 required contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions to work on projects funded by bond sales authorized by the earlier Measure G. It also shows how unions used a lawsuit threat and other antics to subsequently expand coverage of the Project Labor Agreement beyond its original intent.

If you’re completely unfamiliar with this issue, here’s an example of a $17 million Solano Community College Measure G project (Vacaville Center – New Classroom Building) with a requirement in the bid specifications that contractors sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions.

A Thoroughly Documented 20-Point History of How Solano Community College Requires Contractors to Sign a Project Labor Agreement with Unions

1. On November 5, 2002, 55.6% of Solano County voters approved Measure G, which authorized the Governing Board of the Solano County Community College District to borrow $124.5 million for construction projects by selling bonds. Approval required 55%, so the measure barely passed. The ballot measure language and associated information provided to voters mentioned NOTHING about requiring contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions.

2. On April 12, 2003, the Governing Board had its first public discussion about requiring contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions, as indicated in the meeting minutes. Obviously the unions were aggressively lobbying behind the scenes:

Trustee McCaffrey stated that he will be looking for a decision on the Project Labor Agreements that were presented recently…

Trustee Keith stated that Dr. Perfumo [the college president] has met with Lou Franchimon [the head of the Napa-Solano Building and Construction Trades Council] and others to talk with them about the PLAs…

Trustee Honeychurch also stated that he did not want to be intimidated, blackmailed or coerced by a labor union into a labor agreement that cost money, simply for political expediency…

3. The Napa-Solano County Building and Construction Trades Council finally managed to get a presentation in support of a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) on the Governing Board’s September 3, 2003 meeting agenda. To their dismay, opponents of Project Labor Agreements found out about the plot and demanded to have equal time with their own presentation. At the meeting, Sandra Rae Benson of the unabashedly pro-union law firm of Weinberg Roger & Rosenfeld made a formal presentation to the board advocating for a Project Labor Agreement on behalf of her union clients. Her presentation was backed up by public comments from several union officials. Eric Christen of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction made the official presentation against the proposed Project Labor Agreement, with supplemental support from Kevin Dayton of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC).

4. At the Solano Community College Governing Board’s September 17, 2003 meeting, a representative of the Measure G construction manager Kitchell Capital Expenditure Managers (CEM) reported his firm was collecting information on Project Labor Agreements and would present a report at an informational hearing during the November 5 board meeting.

Read September 2003 Solano County newspaper coverage of the Project Labor Agreement for Solano Community College.

5. In October 2003, college administrators reportedly expressed concerns behind the scenes about the cost of using and administering a Project Labor Agreement. Union officials realized that college administrators were dragging out the process and interfering with their demands, and obviously they did not want a repeat of the drawn-out fight in 2000 and 2001 at the Vallejo City Unified School District over the implementation and wording of their Project Labor Agreement. Associated Builders and Contractors and the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction had alerted the county’s three local newspapers to the Project Labor Agreement, and unwanted media attention and community concern about the Measure G program was growing.

6. After Kitchell CEM presented its Project Labor Agreement report to the Solano Community College Governing Board at its November 5, 2003 meeting, board member Pam Keith attempted to make an “end run” around the college administration and initiated a vote to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement with the unions. Unfortunately for her and the unions, the vote was not indicated on the meeting agenda and was a violation of state laws concerning proper advance public notification of agency actions. The vote was not taken.

Read November 2003 and December 2003 newspaper coverage of the Project Labor Agreement for Solano Community College.

7. On November 19, 2003, the Solano County Community College District Governing Board voted 6-1 to negotiate with union representatives for a Project Labor Agreement on Measure G projects. The construction manager was directed to provide the board with a progress report about negotiations in January, with the board voting on the final version of the Project Labor Agreement in February. Union officials “generously” offered to administer the Project Labor Agreement for the community college district at no charge.

One Solano Community College board member, Jerry Wilkerson, voted against the Project Labor Agreement proposal and later voted against the final negotiated agreement. He later explained his reasoning:

Wilkerson said the entire Vacaville community, not just union workers, helped to pass Measure G, so everyone should have the opportunity to bid on those projects. “Otherwise you close folks out who would normally bid,” Wilkerson said.

8. On January 21, 2004, the president of Solano Community College District provided the district‘s Governing Board with an update on negotiations with union representatives for the Project Labor Agreement. It was obvious at this meeting that most board members intended to give the Napa-Solano Building and Construction Trades Council every term and condition it wanted in the agreement.

9. A group of major Solano County public works contractors met at a restaurant in Fairfield on March 16, 2004 and concluded that there was no chance of stopping the Project Labor Agreement because of the college board’s strong support of the union political agenda.

10. On March 17, 2004, the Governing Board of the Solano County Community College District voted 6-1 to approve a negotiated Project Labor Agreement for certain projects at the college district funded by Measure G. It was not a complete victory for the unions, as the union requirement (as this time) only covered some of the larger projects. In addition, the agreement contained two provisions for accountability: (1) the designation of a “pilot project” for the college to evaluate the Project Labor Agreement, and (2) authority for the district to suspend the Project Labor Agreement if it determined the agreement increased costs or reduced competition.

Read the Project Labor Agreement for certain projects at Solano Community College funded by Measure G.

11. Associated Builders and Contractors helped the campaigns of Jackie Crockett and Bill Tanner, candidates running for the Governing Board of the Solano Community College District in November 2004, but both lost. A solid majority of board members would continue to support the Project Labor Agreement.

12. In March 2005, the college district’s construction manager Kitchell CEM sent a notice to area contractors that had worked or were prospective bidders for work at Solano Community College. Kitchell CEM requested comments about the Project Labor Agreement included in the bid specifications for the pilot project: Solano College Building 300/500/1500, a $3.2 million project with a bid deadline of April 19, 2005. As least a dozen local contractors informed Kitchell CEM that their companies do not bid on projects with requirements to sign a labor agreement with unions.

Read documents related to the bidding and performance of the Project Labor Agreement pilot project at Solano Community College.

13. On bid day – April 19, 2005 – a mere TWO contractors submitted bids for the pilot project, a classroom renovation job that typically would have received several bids. Inside sources reported that the construction management firm, Kitchell CEM, submitted an analysis of bid results to the college administration, along with numerous comments from contractors against the Project Labor Agreement, and urged the staff to recommend that the board of trustees rebid the project. This was consistent with Section 2.13 of the Project Labor Agreement, which stated “If fewer than four (4) General Contractors bid on these Project(s), and if the owner determines the primary cause of the overbid is the Project Labor Agreement, the owner reserves the right, without reservation to reject all bids and rebid the Project without the Project Labor Agreement.”

14. On May 4, 2005 – the day of the board’s vote to award the contract for the pilot project – a newspaper article in the Fairfield Daily Republic (SCC Board to Decide on Renovation Project) reported on the dismal bidding participation for the project. Union officials were reportedly livid about this revelation going public and revved up their lobbying machine. At the board meeting, Kevin Dayton of Associated Builders and Contractors asked board members to reject the bids and rebid the project without a Project Labor Agreement for comparison purposes. With absolutely no comments from governing board members or college administrators, the board voted in front of a row of stern-faced union officials to award the project to the low bidder.

15. In the end, Kitchell CEM never produced a report on the final outcome of Solano Community College’s pilot project under the Project Labor Agreement, as required in Section 2.12 of the agreement. The project ended up with an additional $486,000 in unexpected expenses, $72,000 of which resulted from errors and omissions by the contractor. The project was finished on time only through some extraordinary measures by the contractor. But the Project Labor Agreement endured. It wasn’t about performance: it was about union construction monopolies.

16. Now union officials began their campaign to pressure the board to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for additional projects not listed in the Project Labor Agreement approved by the board in 2004. They began requesting the college to provide them with certified payroll records for the employees of non-union contractors on small projects funded by Measure G. They cited a cement slab with excess moisture as a reason for requiring contractors on additional projects to sign a Project Labor Agreement. One board member simply declared at a meeting that every contractor should sign a Project Labor Agreement so that the unions could oversee the work.

17. In September 2007, Solano Community College withdrew a bid notice for a basic gymnasium renovation and then re-advertised the contract with a Project Labor Agreement in the bid specifications, even though the Project Labor Agreement approved by the Governing Board did not include this specific project. Governing board minutes did not indicate how or why this happened. To find out what was going on, Associated Builders and Contractors submitted a request for public records to the administration at Solano Communty College.

18. The college administration provided Associated Builders and Contractors with a letter to the college chancellor from Sandra Rae Benson of the law firm of Weinberg Roger & Rosenfeld. The letter threatened the college with “lengthy and costly litigation” unless the Project Labor Agreement was “enforced” for the gymnasium renovation, even though it was not included in the list of projects covered under the agreement. The letter also claimed, without any evidence of course – see #15 above – that “the pilot projects were completed very successfully.” Finally, the letter claimed that “the amount of damages sustained by the Unions and their members of having this work performed outside of the scope of the PLA [Project Labor Agreement] would be substantial.” The president acknowledged that she had decided on her own authority to expand the Project Labor Agreement to additional work at Solano Community College.

19. Associated Builders and Contractors circulated the union lawsuit threat to elected officials and community leaders throughout Solano County, with a warning about what happens when a local government starts doing the will of union lobbyists and lawyers. In addition, an opinion piece from Associated Builders and Contractors exposing the union lawsuit threat was printed in the “Sunday Forum” of the January 6, 2008 Vacaville Reporter newspaper: SCC Trustees Irresponsible with Taxpayers’ Bond Money. It included some advice five years in advance to Solano County voters:

Solano County voters should be aware that unions are controlling the construction at Solano Community College and using their lawyers to expand their monopoly beyond even what the college Board of Trustees had originally approved. When Solano Community College’s Board of Trustees again asks taxpayers for yet more money for college construction projects, consider how one special interest group has a firm grip on the college at your expense.

20. On August 1, 2012, the Governing Board for the Solano Community College District voted 6-1 to ask voters for approval to borrow $346 million through bond sales. To maximize the Yes vote from people who judge a book by its cover, the bond measure name is stuffed with words: it is called the “Student/Veterans’ Affordable Education, Job Training/Classroom Repair Measure.” Of note is that the college’s press release about the bond measure going on the ballot doesn’t mention the cost of the bond. (Is that important?)

Three of the six board members who were on the board when it approved the Project Labor Agreement in 2003 and 2004 (Pam Keith, Phil McCaffrey, and Denis Honeychurch) are still on the board. The minutes of the August 1, 2012 Solano Community College board meeting are quite revealing about the plans for money borrowed through bond sales authorized by Measure Q. Speaking in support of the bond measure at the August 1, 2012 meeting was Lou Franchimon, head of the Napa-Solano Building and Construction Trades Council, which he said supported the bond measure 100%. Public comment also featured this statement from Monica Brown, a candidate for the Solano Community College Governing Board:

Ms. Brown expressed concern that if the Bond Election is passed and approved by the voters that we employ Solano County workers from our community – “not someone from Arizona.” Ms. Brown encouraged that the College employ local firms and include a project labor agreement in contracts, and also to make sure our facilities are built to last. Ms. Brown also encouraged the Board to work hard on this initiative, including walking precincts and participating in phone banks.

One board member, Catherine Ritch, wisely voted against putting this union-backed measure on the November 6, 2012 ballot.

Trustee Ritch commented that she will be voting no on this item. She stated that she does everything she can to support the mission of Solano College, but is troubled by this measure. She thanked the staff and Bond Counsel, but stated her concerns are that she would have been more comfortable if the Educational Master Plan and Facilities Plan were approved. She is uncomfortable with the fact that the document stated the Board has reviewed and prioritized projects which have not been adequately identified. She is uncomfortable asking her family, friends, and neighbors to increase their property tax assessment when it is not specific how the money is going to be allocated. Trustee Ritch encouraged the Board to take a deep breath, work diligently to finalize the two documents, cost them out, and define specific needs.

4 comments

  1. […] Solano College governing board voted 6-1 in 2003 and 2004 to require its construction contractors to…, barely approved by 55.6% of Solano County voters in November 2002. A majority of governing board […]

  2. […] Measure Q would authorize the Governing Board of the Solano Community College District to borrow $348 million for construction by selling bonds to investors. The Solano Community College District Governing Board required contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions in order to work on projects funded by Measure G, which authorized the Governing Board to borrow $124.5 million for construction by selling bonds. (See my October 21, 2012 report A Thoroughly Documented History of How Solano Community College Requires Contractors to Sign a Proje….) […]

  3. […] on the district’s projects funded by Measure G, approved by voters in November 2002. (See A Thoroughly Documented History of How Solano Community College Requires Contractors to Sign a Proje… for the full details of that […]