On January 16, 2013, the truth came out about the dismal failure of the Project Labor Agreement in place since June 30, 2005 and extended in 2010 for almost all construction in the City of Carson, California, near Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council [no web site] was apparently so arrogant about its political grip on Carson construction projects that it didn’t bother to fulfill its contractual obligation to track and report its own compliance with the worker recruitment and dispatching goals in the agreement! Now the city will be taking charge of the unions’ responsibility, at a cost of $100,000 to taxpayers.
Consider that a June 1, 2010 staff report to the Carson City Council stated that “it is staff’s best estimate that implementing a PLA on public works projects does likely involve some net increase cost to the city of Carson for such projects,” and a Carson resident might wonder how much this union sweetheart deal is costing the taxpayers. The Carson City Council’s belated response to seven years of union baloney received local newspaper coverage: see Carson Hires Firm to Ensure More City Residents Are Hired for Public Construction Projects – Daily Breeze (Torrance – “LAX to LA Harbor”) – January 16, 2013.
What happened? According to a January 15, 2013 staff report to the Carson City Council about its Project Labor Agreement performance, “Among its provisions, the PLA [Project Labor Agreement] calls for an employment goal of 30% Carson residents. Tracking progress on that goal has been problematic. Available data has suggested local hire rates have not met the goal.” (The report does not mention the employment goal of 5% “at-risk” workers.)
This outcome should not have surprised the Carson City Council. When the Carson City Council considered renewing the Project Labor Agreement for another five years at its June 1, 2010 meeting, a staff report indicated that although the city had awarded ten construction contracts totaling $5.86 million to contractors with a requirement to sign the union Project Labor Agreement, “staff has yet to obtain from the Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council data on the local hires for the projects noted above.” The report noted that “the PLA requires the unions to recruit city of Carson residents and refer city of Carson residents to city projects.” (The staff report did not mention the “at-risk” workers that were supposed to get job opportunities under the Project Labor Agreement.)
In fact, a series of staff reports produced in 2004 and 2005 warned about the credibility of the unions’ worker recruitment and dispatching claims, even as the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council spent a tortuous fourteen months pressuring the City of Carson city council and staff to submit to requiring its construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement.
As stated in a May 4, 2004 staff report to the Carson City Council, proponents (that is, union officials) claimed that the Project Labor Agreement would result in “increasing the potential for local and ‘at-risk’ hires.” That same staff report also stated that it will “require the city to establish a monitoring mechanism to ensure that the terms and conditions of the PLA are being enforced.” Included in the list of tasks for whichever party ended up overseeing contractual compliance with the Project Labor Agreement was “monitor representative numbers of local and/or ‘at risk’ employees.”
Then, a June 15, 2004 staff report to the city council expressed reservations about the Project Labor Agreement actually helping to recruit and dispatch local and “at-risk” workers, as well as the question of how such efforts would be tracked and reported:
Given Carson’s diversity, it would seem the implementation of a PLA would assist in the City’s desire to see more and greater involvement by minority and female workers and contractors. However, the opposite has been shown. Minority- and female-owned contractors tend to be small, nonunion shops who find the restrictive clauses in PLAs particularly onerous. Compounding this problem is the limited supply of female and minority employees to work these projects. Both minorities and females are underrepresented in the building trades.
The hiring of local workers, which has been a supported cause in Carson, would appear to be a welcome recipient of a PLA. Unfortunately, this may not be the case. The rules governing worker deployment would not necessarily place Carson workers in an advantageous position versus other union members. Moreover, should these Carson residents be nonunion, they may be required to join the union to even be placed on its lists.
The issue of local, minority and female hiring lends itself to a related issue, that of monitoring. Should these requirements be placed in the City’s PLA, staff must be in place to ensure that these clauses are being fulfilled. As this data is not necessarily readily available unions do not traditionally collect this information – this task maybe arduous, if not impossible, to complete.
Issues to Consider: As was stated earlier, the requirements the City wishes to include in the PLA will determine the level of monitoring that must be done to ensure that the terms and conditions are being met.
An October 5, 2004 staff report to the city council elaborated on this problem:
Though PLAs can ensure the use of local workers, this applies to those residents who are already members of the union, or are willing to pay the union dues and fees required by the agreement. With the majority of construction workers not affiliated with any union, the number of local hires may be small.
But in the end, the city council voted to require its construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for city projects of more than $125,000 for general construction work and $25,000 for specialty construction work. It also included this language in Article VII concerning the “concentrated effort” of unions to recruit and dispatch local and “at-risk” (“disadvantaged”) workers to contractors (language that turned out to be meaningless):
7.4 Unions will be required to recruit sufficient numbers of skilled craft persons to fulfill the requirements of the Contractors/Employers. In recognition of the fact that the communities closest to the Project will be impacted by the construction of these Projects, the parties agree to support the development of increased numbers of construction workers from residents of these communities. Toward that end, the Unions agree to make a concentrated effort to recruit residents of the City enrolled in local trade schools or otherwise and to refer and utilize qualified City residents on the Projects.
The Unions shall submit written documentation to the City on an annual basis which sets forth the steps taken by the Unions to recruit, refer and utilize qualified City residents and the number of City residents recruited by the Unions and referred to or utilized on the Projects. In recognition of the City’s mission to serve the residents of the City, the Unions and Contractors/Employers agree that, to the extent allowed by law, and as long as they possess the requisite skills and qualifications, residents of the City shall be first referred for Project work, including joumeypersons, apprentices, or other positions. The purpose of this section is to provide employment opportunities for those residents, which live in communities, which have historically been economically depressed.
7.5 A goal of 30% of all of the labor and craft positions shall be from workers residing within the Project area described in Section 7.4 above. In addition, a goal of 5% of all of the labor and craft positions shall be from the City wide labor pool classified as “at risk”.
7.6 The “at risk” workers will be referred to the Unions from community-based job placement organizations and brokers such as City of Carson Job Clearinghouse located at 1 Civic Plaza, Sui1e 200, Carson, CA 90745, and the Workforce Investment Network (WIN), located at 1 Civic Plaza, Suite 500, Carson, CA 90745. The job broker shall pre-screen any applicant prior to referral to the Unions. Drug screening will be a prerequisite to employment. The following criteria will be used to identify the “at risk” worker:
-Household income below 50% of the median;
-History of involvement with the justice system;
For the applicant to qualify under this program, the job broker shall verify the presence of a minimum of two of the above criteria.
And who was responsible for monitoring compliance with these contractual provisions? The answer is in Article X:
10.1 It shall be the responsibility of the Contractors/Employers and Unions to investigate and monitor compliance with the provisions of the Agreement contained in Article VIII. [and also in Article VII – editor] The City may designate a representative to monitor and investigate issues related to this Agreement including, but not limited to, the prevailing wage requirements, local and “At Risk” hiring compliance, and the affirmative action provisions of the City.
So the unions failed to abide by the contractual requirements in their Project Labor Agreement, and the Carson city council and staff are responding by hiring an outside consultant for $100,000 to take care of it – once again proving that a promise in a Project Labor Agreement is a meaningless statement designed for public relations and political campaigns.
As the California High-Speed Rail Authority trumpets its “Community Benefits Policy” provisions in its Project Labor Agreement with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California (now led by Robbie Hunter, the previous head of the Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council), keep in mind that local hiring, at-risk hiring, and veterans hiring are simply nice goals placed as decorative toppings for union-only hiring. Reflecting the same skepticism held by the City of Carson staff, my analysis of the Project Labor Agreement for the High-Speed Rail can be found at 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.