Feds Need Better Oversight of Labor-Management Cooperation Committees, Such as the Union Slush Fund that Spent $1.1 Million in the June 2012 Election in the City of San Diego

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An August 27, 2012 article on the Investigative Newsource – Southern California web site contains the latest fleeting news reference to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperation Trust. The last two paragraphs of “Outside Donors Fuel Prop. Opponents, Fund Mayoral Hopefuls” states the following about Proposition A campaign in the City of San Diego for the June 6, 2012 election:

The California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust, a nonprofit located in Sacramento that promotes and protects project labor agreements around the state, donated more than $1 million to try unsuccessfully to defeat Prop. A, which banned project labor agreements. The agreements set some of the terms of employment, such as wage rates, on construction projects.

The Trust gets much of its money from laborers themselves. Clauses in some project labor agreements dictate that a portion of money per hour worked goes to the Trust.

The same Investigative Newsource was alone among news media groups in highlighting the extensive campaign involvement of this obscure organization before the June 6, 2012 election. From the May 25, 2012 article “Business Groups, Builders and Labor Battle over Propositions:”

All of the money for the one of the committees opposing Proposition A has come from the same donor.

Since March 18, the California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust donated $675,000 to Taxpayers to Preserve Community Jobs.

The California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust is a tax-exempt Sacramento-based organization, which says its mission is, among other things, to “improve public awareness of the benefit of using organized labor contractors and workers.” The group is not required by the IRS to list specific sources of funding, but in general, it reported on its 2010 tax returns collecting $678,000 in membership dues. It reported more than $3 million in assets.

And the trust fund is also cited in the June 1, 2012 Investigative Newsource article “Fundraising Amps Up for Proposition A, B Committees:”

In the past week, a union trust gave an additional $320,000 into defeating Proposition A, a ballot measure that would ban project labor agreements for San Diego city projects if passed.

That brings to $1.18 million the amount raised by the anti-Prop. A forces, far outpacing the business interests pushing Proposition A. That committee, Fair and Open Competition, has raised $755,000 so far.

Taxpayers to Preserve Community Jobs — an anti-Prop. A committee — has benefited mainly from the California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust. The trust is responsible for more than 90 percent of its donations.

The labor trust is “heavily involved” with promoting and protecting project labor agreements (PLAs) around the state, according to secretary/treasurer Scott Strawbridge. A PLA is a type of collective bargaining agreement that a city can enter into with workers for city projects.

“We think (PLAs) are good business for our contractors and union members,” Strawbridge said.

A big part of the money in the trust comes from laborers themselves, he said. Clauses in certain PLAs specify that a small amount of money per hour worked goes into the trust.

The San Diego Union-Tribune briefly and generally mentioned the fund after the election, in the June 7, 2012 article “Impact of Proposition A on State Funds in Dispute:”

The major backer of the No on A campaign was a Sacramento-based group headed by Robert Balgenorth, the president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, a statewide union, which donated $1.1 million to stop it from passing.

This brief public reference was enough to provoke Scott Strawbridge (cited in the Investigative Newsource article above) to defend the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust publicly with an opinion piece in the Union-Tribune. (“In Response: Prop. A Put San Diego Citizens in Difficult Position,” June 22, 2012)

In doing so, he provided a public service in highlighting the unregulated slush fund that spent $1,095,000 to oppose Proposition A, a fair and open competition ordinance approved by 58% of San Diego voters on June 5.

This mysterious, Sacramento-based California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust is authorized by the obscure Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978, a law signed by President Jimmy Carter.

The law lists specific purposes for these trusts: “improving labor-management relationships, job security, organizational effectiveness, enhancing economic development or involving workers in decisions affecting their jobs including improving communication with respect to subjects of mutual interest and concern.” And many trusts operating under this law do just that.

Nevertheless, the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust circumvents these purposes without consequence.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service hasn’t implemented regulations to monitor or limit how such trusts operate. And these trusts don’t have any reporting requirements to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor Management Standards.

Who wouldn’t enjoy having a slush fund with minimal oversight and controls?

The California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust recently gave $100,000 to the Apollo Alliance, $250,000 to a campaign committee opposing reforms to state eminent domain laws, and $770,000 to the biased California Construction Academy of the University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Program. It also gave $164,550 to “Other.”

How does the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust get its money? Do people contribute to it through the goodness of their hearts?

Actually, owners of proposed power plants (and their construction contractors) fund it when they sign Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) that require payments to it.

Power plant owners don’t sign these union agreements because they want union monopolies on construction or appreciate the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust.

Instead, they sign them to discourage California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) from exploiting environmental laws to interfere with approval of their proposed power plants at the California Energy Commission and other government agencies.

It’s a tangled conspiracy. Especially intriguing is that one union official is the head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust, and California Unions for Reliable Energy.

Another interesting angle: when publicly-owned utilities sign these Project Labor Agreements, their electric customers ultimately fund the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust through their bills.

Senate Bill 790 – signed into law by Governor Jerrry Brown in 2011 – allows publicly-owned utilities to pass through to ratepayers the cost of payments to trusts authorized by the Labor Management Cooperation Act of 1978.

In its annual Form 990 statements to the IRS, the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust classifies its receipts as “membership dues.” How do “members” such as the Northern California Power Agency and the Southern California Public Power Authority decide to contribute $1,095,000 to the No on A campaign in the City of San Diego?

It’s time to stop these abuses. If Mitt Romney is elected President, his appointees to oversee the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and the Office of Labor Management Standards need to implement reasonable regulations for trusts authorized under the Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978.

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