Contra Costa Times Recognizes Fiscally Responsible Candidates for Brentwood City Council: Endorsements EXCLUDE Project Labor Agreement Supporters

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The Contra Costa Times newspaper endorsed Bob Brockman, Erick Stonebarger, and Steve Barr for election to the Brentwood City Council in November 2012. See Barr, Brockman, and Stonebarger in Brentwood – Contra Costa Times (editorial) – September 25, 2012.

It did NOT endorse Mayor Bob Taylor or former councilman Chris Becnel.

The Times based its endorsements on candidates’ responses to the city’s $52 million in unfunded pension and health insurance liabilities for city employee benefit programs. Obviously, this is an issue of taxpayers versus unions; the Times sided with the perspective of Brentwood taxpayers.

If the Contra Costa Times had based its endorsements solely on the issue of requiring city contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions, the results would have been the same!

Bob Brockman and Eric Stonebarger sided with taxpayers and fair and open competition. They opposed requiring contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions.

Bob Taylor and Chris Becnel sided with the unions of the Contra Costa County Building and Construction Trades Council. They supported requiring contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions. Becnel was defeated for re-election in 2010 and wants to get back on the city council.

Steve Barr was not on the Brentwood City Council in 2009-2010. (His predecessor Brandon Richey voted for the government-mandated Project Labor Agreement, giving unions a 3-2 victory in winning a monopoly on construction of the civic center and parking garage.)

The behavior of the Brentwood City Council members during this fight over Project Labor Agreements is quite revealing for voters. To give city council members some accountability for their votes in 2009 and 2010, here’s a timeline of what happened, with the original links to newspaper articles (most have expired, regrettably).

March 2009 – Brentwood City Council Considers Requiring Contractors to Sign Project Labor Agreement with Unions to Build Civic Center

On March 24, 2009, the Brentwood City Council voted 4-1 to spend up to $20,000 to commission a study from the union-oriented labor relations consulting firm of Scarth-Lyons & Associates about the feasibility of a Project Labor Agreement to achieve certain goals in the construction of a new city government complex, consisting of new civic center buildings, a new city hall, a plaza, a parking garage, and a new community center. Read an article about the vote:

“Project Labor Agreement” Being Considered for Civic Center – Contra Costa Times – March 25, 2009 (link is expired – go to Contra Costa Times archives)

Scarth-Lyons & Associates always identifies a need for a Project Labor Agreement in its one-sided reports to Northern California local governments. Also complicit in the push for a Project Labor Agreement on the civic center was another usual suspect, the Swinerton construction management firm. These two companies occasionally work together to promote union Project Labor Agreements under the guise of objective analysis, and then they get contracts to negotiate and administer those Project Labor Agreements. In other words, the city hired outside contractors with the knowledge they would reach a predetermined conclusion to require construction contractors to sign a union agreement.

At the March 24, 2009 city council meeting, the head of the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce – an organization ostensibly meant to support small and medium-sized local businesses – inexplicably advocated FOR having the city government require contractors to sign the Project Labor Agreement with unions. Who fed them the union propaganda? What a failure of critical thinking!

April 2009 – Merit Shop Contractors and Unions Clash Over Project Labor Agreement for Brentwood Civic Center Complex

Merit Shop contractors and representatives of various construction trade organizations relentlessly shelled the Brentwood City Council and local community organizations with arguments against the proposed Project Labor Agreement for the city’s planned civic center – so much so that a city council member told a representative of Associated Builders and Contractors on May 4, 2009 that he was “sick of hearing about it.”

The Brentwood Press weekly newspaper reported on the Project Labor Agreement controversy on April 17, 2009: see Labor Issues Overtake Civic Center. Then, on May 1, the Brentwood Press published an opinion piece I wrote in opposition to the Project Labor Agreement: Union-Only Agreement Will Cost Taxpayers.

Several Merit Shop contractors and representatives of Associated Builders and Contractors attended the April 14, 2009 Brentwood City Council meeting to speak during public comment against the proposed Project Labor Agreement. The Contra Costa County Building and Construction Trades Council also showed up with a dozen people to speak during public comment in support of a Project Labor Agreement. As a result, an unexpected 45-minute verbal battle erupted at the council chamber between proponents and opponents of Project Labor Agreements.

A few days before the meeting, households throughout Brentwood had received mailers from the Golden Gate Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors and from the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction criticizing the Project Labor Agreement and urging citizens to contact their city council in opposition to the proposal.

A few days after the April 14, 2009 meeting, Associated Builders and Contractors received a letter from the union-oriented labor relations consulting firm of Scarth-Lyons & Associates asking two questions cleverly written to undermine opposition arguments. (On March 24, 2009, Scarth-Lyons & Associates had been commissioned by the city council for $20,000 to write a study in support of the Project Labor Agreement.) Instead of responding directly to Scarth-Lyons & Associates, Associated Builders and Contractors sent a letter to the city council and top city staff picking apart the questions and asking for council members’ advice on how to answer them. It also provided several charts for the city to ask Scarth-Lyons & Associates to fill out and provide in its report. The charts listed all of the Contra Costa County construction unions and provided blanks for Scarth-Lyons & Associates to fill in regarding vesting periods for pensions, waiting periods for health insurance, underfunding of union pensions and their endangered/critical status, and the amounts for initiation fees and monthly dues.

May 2009 – Brentwood City Council Approves Negotiations with Union Officials for Project Labor Agreement on Civic Center

On May 12, 2009, at a meeting attended by hundreds of people in the construction industry, the Brentwood City Council voted 3-2 to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement with construction unions for a civic center project. About 60 people spoke during public comment – about three-fourths of them were union representatives.

City council members expressed concern about the provisions routinely included in Project Labor Agreements that require non-union contractors to pay employee benefits into union trust funds instead of their own company benefit plans, thus forcing contractors to pay into two plans in order to maintain benefits for their permanent employees.

Associated Builders and Contractors submitted a letter to the mayor and city council asking to be part of the negotiations between two city council members and union representatives. In the meantime, a citizens’ group called Brentwood Taxpayers for Fiscal Responsibility organized to make the city council accountable for its call for fair language in the Project Labor Agreement.

As noted above, Associated Builders and Contractors and the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction had sent mailers to Brentwood residents in April 2009 urging them to contact the city council against the Project Labor Agreement. The Contra Costa County Building and Construction Trades Council countered by sending a mailer in support of the Project Labor Agreement.

Associated Builders and Contractors tried in vain to convince the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce to take a position in support of fair and open competition and against the Project Labor Agreement.

The union-oriented labor relations consulting firm of Scarth-Lyons & Associates completed its report for the city at a cost to taxpayers of $13,800 (based on billing as of May 12, 2009). As expected, this biased report was clearly written from the presumption that Project Labor Agreements are good public policy and that non-union workers are inferior to union workers because they compete with other applicants to get jobs instead of being dispatched through union referral systems. In a letter, Associated Builders and Contractors had formally asked the city council to evaluate numerous issues that ended up not being addressed in the report. Although some city council members noted that the report was inadequate, Scarth-Lyons ended up managing the Project Labor Agreement negotiations for an additional taxpayer-funded fee.

In response to my opinion piece in the May 1, 2009 Brentwood Press (Union-Only Agreement Will Cost Taxpayers), the head of the Contra Costa County Building and Construction Trades Council wrote an opinion piece (PLAs Boost Quality, Save Money) accusing me of “ignorance and bias.” I admitted to both accusations in my comments posted under his op-ed:

I’m the person being accused of “ignorance and bias” in this opinion piece.

I will admit my bias: I’m biased in favor of fiscal responsibility, effective scrutiny and management of essential government functions, fair and open bid competition, free enterprise, freedom of choice for workers in whether or not to be in a union and how to learn a trade, balanced budgets, low taxes, limited government, reasonable regulations, and the rule of law. I’m biased against coercion, collectivism, and government waste and corruption.

Perhaps I’m ignorant too, in thinking that local elected officials might actually place taxpayers and the majority of workers ahead of their personal ambitions and vanity when considering PLAs. It takes a strong set of principles to withstand the lures and threats of powerful union political machines and their sycophants. Nevertheless, ABC will continue to oppose this PLA proposal, and we look forward to making our final arguments before the city council votes on this PLA on May 12. In the meantime, I hope the citizens of Brentwood will contact their city council members about how their taxpayer money will be spent under this PLA, because your concerns matter most…

See media coverage here:

Talks to Begin on Civic Center PLA – Brentwood Press – May 14, 2009

Brentwood Moves Ahead on Local Labor Requirement for Civic Center – Contra Costa Times – May 13, 2009  (link is expired – go to Contra Costa Times archives)

June 2009 – Brentwood City Council Narrowly Approves Project Labor Agreement for Civic Center

At a special meeting on June 18, 2009, the Brentwood City Council was awash in applause from a large crowd of union activists when it voted 3-2 to approve a negotiated Project Labor Agreement for the Brentwood Civic Center project. Speaking against the Project Labor Agreement were 16 people, while 32 people (mainly affiliated with unions) spoke in favor of it.

Note that the city council in this relatively conservative suburban town consisted of four Republicans and one without a party affiliation, showing that party identification does not always indicate support for fair and open competition. In fact, the city council member most aggressively opposed to fair and open competition (see his quotation below) was Chris Becnel, an alternate member of the Contra Costa County Republican Central Committee. (He was forced out of that position because of his support for the Project Labor Agreement.)

Erick Stonebarger and Robert Brockman were the two votes against the Project Labor Agreement. In particular, Councilman Brockman was an exceptional speaker against the Project Labor Agreement. He actually took the time to read the Project Labor Agreement, and he accurately interpreted many of the egregious provisions at the meeting.

In a letter dated June 5, 2009, Mayor Robert Taylor declined to honor the request of Associated Builders and Contractors to the city council to participate in Project Labor Agreement negotiations. (The mayor voted for the Project Labor Agreement.) A group called Brentwood Citizens for Fiscal Accountability held an organizational meeting on June 8 to monitor the Project Labor Agreement negotiations, but it was unable to make a difference in such a short time period.

Prominent at the June 18, 2009 meeting in advocating for this Project Labor Agreement was the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a liberal political advocacy group for Latinos.  However, a Roman Catholic priest who administered an opening prayer for a Project Labor Agreement at the May 26 meeting was not present to call for God’s presence at this meeting.

Some of you in ABC may be wealthy enough not to think that, that $10,000 is not a significant number…it is a significant number…

Brentwood City Councilman Chris Becnel, trying to incite class resentment against contractors while talking about the $10,000 penalty for unions if they go on strike despite the no-strike promise in the Project Labor Agreement.

Media Coverage:

Brentwood Council Approves PLA for Civic Center – Brentwood Press – June 19, 2009

Brentwood Adopts Divisive Civic Center Agreement – Contra Costa Times – June 19, 2009  (link is expired – go to Contra Costa Times archives)

Pro-Union Pact Spurs GOP Reaction – Contra Costa Times – July 4, 2009  (link is expired – go to Contra Costa Times archives)

September 2009 – Bid Deadline for Brentwood Civic Center is also Day to Protest Councilman Becnel’s Vote for Government-Mandated Project Labor Agreement

The September 2, 2009 bid deadline for the Brentwood Civic Center resulted in eleven contractors bidding out of the 20 that pre-qualified. That day also featured a picket in front of Councilman Chris Becnel’s office by opponents of the Project Labor Agreement. Flyers were posted around town at businesses and public bulletin boards featuring Councilman Becnel’s picture and describing his vote. The Contra Costa Times newspaper reported on the protest:

Unperturbed by this week’s demonstration, Becnel said he thinks he has rankled the nonunion contingent by pointing out that in choosing not to bid on the project — because they don’t want to be bound by union rules — these businesses are denying their employees a chance to work.

Eric Christen, executive director of Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, said he and others are targeting Becnel because of insults like these.

“As if he knows what’s best for these workers! The arrogance is breathtaking,” Christen said.

Bids Lower Than Expected on Brentwood Project – Contra Costa Times – September 3, 2009  (link is expired – go to Contra Costa Times archives)

January 2010 – Enthralled with Unions, Majority on Brentwood City Council Expands Project Labor Agreement to Additional Construction

On January 26, 2010 the Brentwood City Council voted 3-1 over the objections of representatives of Associated Builders and Contractors to expand coverage of the Project Labor Agreement for the new Brentwood Civic Center to an adjacent parking garage. For additional insult to taxpayers, the city council approved an additional payment not to exceed $12,500 for the union-oriented consulting firm of Scarth-Lyons & Associates to change the wording of the Project Labor Agreement to include the parking garage and take on supposed additional administrative services. The city council has now approved an amount not to exceed $57,500 to Scarth-Lyons to administer the Project Labor Agreement. Councilman Bob Brockman voted against the resolution; Councilman Erick Stonebarger was absent.

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  1. […] reported in my September 26 post (Contra Costa Times Recognizes Fiscally Responsible Candidates for Brentwood City Council: Endorsemen…) that Brentwood City Council members who did the bidding of construction union lobbyists and […]