Monterey County Water Resources Agency: Target of First State-Mandated Project Labor Agreement

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On June 3, 2014, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors voted to proceed with a plan and $500,000 in funding to construct a $25 million pipeline between the Lake Nacimiento and Lake San Antonio reservoirs that will allow more storage of water for the Salinas Valley. A few days later, Assemblyman Luis Alejo, who represents the Salinas Valley, gutted the contents of his Assembly Bill 155 and inserted language that authorized the Monterey County Water Resources Agency to use the design-build procurement method for bidding the interlake pipeline project.

Because of the drought, AB 155 is designated as an “urgency” bill that will take effect immediately when the Governor signs it. A two-thirds vote in the Assembly and Senate is required to pass an urgency bill.

But what immediately attracted attention was this provision in AB 155:

(2) If the agency does award a design-build contract as authorized under paragraph (1), it shall do the following:

(C) Ensure that the design-build entity selected for the project enters into a project labor agreement that will bind all of the contractors performing work on the project.

This is the first state mandate for a California local government to require its construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions, and whoever arranged the plot was able to keep it unnoticed until AB 155 was amended. Reportedly the phrase “Project Labor Agreement” was uttered once during discussion of the pipeline project at the June 3, 2014 Monterey County Board of Supervisors meeting, to the visible satisfaction of the head of the Monterey/Santa Cruz Building and Construction Trades Council, who was in the audience.

I went to the June 18, 2014 meeting of the Salinas River Basin Management Planning Committee of the Monterey County Water Resources Agency to ask the committee to seek the removal of the Project Labor Agreement mandate from AB 155. (The meeting agenda included a report from the agency’s general manager on the status of the interlake pipeline project.)

By this time, the business community in the Salinas Valley was aware of the state-mandated Project Labor Agreement as a condition of design-build procurement. A representative of the Salinas Valley Water Coalition complained that the Project Labor Agreement in AB 155 was never discussed in a public forum despite changing the Agency’s bidding process. A representative of the Monterey County Farm Bureau also expressed concern that the mandate was never discussed in a transparent manner. He said “politics is changing this” and the agency was “taking what Sacramento dishes out.”

The committee discussed the Project Labor Agreement at length. Some committee members objected to the language and noted that it had been inserted without local deliberation or even knowledge. One board member asked staff what other special interests in Sacramento were planning to “latch onto the bill” and said “We shouldn’t just roll over on this one despite the threat.”

Staff acknowledged that the Project Labor Agreement mandate was added to the bill to neutralize opposition to AB 155 from the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. One board member who seemed to be fully aware of what happened claimed the union mandate was necessary in order to fast track the bill and the project. He said the agency would lose seven to twelve months and would not be “shovel-ready” for grants: “Without union support, we can’t do it. It’s too late to push back; it really is.” He also reported that the head of the Monterey/Santa Cruz Building and Construction Trades Council said unions would oppose the bill unless a Project Labor Agreement was in it. He also claimed that Republicans would vote for AB 155 even with the Project Labor Agreement in it, so the threat of derailing passage of the bill with one-third opposition was not real.

The committee did not take action because the Project Labor Agreement was not on the agenda, and it did not schedule a special meeting to take action. The committee will discuss the Project Labor Agreement at its July 9 meeting, at which time the committee will know if AB 155 will fail or be signed into law. The Monterey County Board of Supervisors is supposed to vote again on the pipeline project on July 29, 2014.

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