Residents of California’s Central Valley from Merced to Bakersfield are still asking how unions obtained costly monopoly control of the first construction segment of the California High-Speed Rail through a Project Labor Agreement that all contractors must sign as a condition of work. The union requirement was inserted in late December 2012 as Addendum 8 in the bid specifications for the project, without public comment or scrutiny. Here are some of the mysterious circumstances behind this Project Labor Agreement:
- The board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority never voted on the Project Labor Agreement or even discussed the concept as a scheduled board item.
- The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration apparently never approved the Project Labor Agreement, even though it awarded a American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Obama stimulus package) grant in 2010 of $2,552,556,231 for construction of the first segment.
- No local elected officials in the Central Valley have taken responsibility or credit for the Project Labor Agreement; in fact, elected officials either express opposition to the Project Labor Agreement or avoid mentioning it.
- The head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California was on the board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority while Fresno civic leaders developed a local hiring program that eventually transformed into a union agreement.
- A select group of professional staff and appointed officials in Fresno seemed to be the driving force for the Project Labor Agreement, and they developed the policy and made the decisions without accountability to the people.
Today I obtained several documents through my California Public Records Act request to the Fresno County Workforce Investment Board. These documents reveal that agitation for a Project Labor Agreement was coming from the Fresno Works consortium, described on its web site as “an unprecedented coalition of officials from the County of Fresno, City of Fresno and the Council of Fresno County Governments, working together with the education, labor and business communities to ensure the success of the California High-Speed Rail initiative and its heavy maintenance facility in Fresno County. This group has come together in support of this effort to bring forward a technically responsive and compelling expression of interest in locating the heavy maintenance facility in Fresno County.”
Somehow a lobbying effort to get the California High-Speed Rail Authority to place the highly-coveted Heavy Maintenance Facility in Fresno was used as the agent to get unions a Project Labor Agreement for construction of the Madera to Fresno segment of the rail line. One of the organizations listed in the consortium is the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and the photo on the home page shows local union officials standing in the background. As noted below, Chuck Riojas, the head of the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local No. 100, spoke before the board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority in November 2012 about a proposed targeted hiring program that became the Project Labor Agreement.
The other individual who seems to play a prominent role in the process to get a Project Labor Agreement is Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who had run for mayor in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012 with a platform of supporting fair and open competition on city construction projects. Mayor Swearengin had worked extensively with unions when she was the top executive for the Fresno Regional Jobs Initiative, and during that time union officials tried to use the Regional Jobs Initiative as an agent to recommend policies to local governments that favored unions for public works construction. (See documents concerning a 2005 controversy at the Fresno Regional Jobs Initiative concerning apprenticeship requirements.) Her June 2012 letter to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation asking for comments about a Project Labor Agreement ended up being a centerpiece of the process to implement it.
Here are summaries of the documents leading to a Project Labor Agreement on the first segment of California’s High-Speed Rail:
The Acting Chief Counsel of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) sent a letter dated January 6, 2012 to the Chief Counsel of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. It opened with this opinion:
This letter is in response to your request for the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) views of the proposal described in the September 8, 2011 Memorandum to the Fresno Works Consortium (Memorandum) from the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board (FRWIB) staff recommending that the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) implement a “Targeted Unemployed Worker” Program and “First Source” transparency requirements for the California High Speed Rail Project (Project) funded in part by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). For the reasons set out below, we have concluded that while not specifically precluded as a matter of applicable Federal law, the “Targeted Unemployed Worker” Program conflicts with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (U.S. DOT) – and FRA’s – general disapproval of local or in-state geographic preferences because of the potential negative impacts on open and competitive procurement procedures.
Meanwhile, an unrelated federal review of a government-mandated Project Labor Agreement for regional highway construction in Southern California would become a key justification for a Project Labor Agreement on the California High-Speed Rail. The Chief Counsel of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) sent a letter dated February 7, 2012 to the Chief Administrative Services Officer of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA).
The letter indicated that the federal agency reviewed the LACMTA’s Project Labor Agreement and its associated “Construction Careers Policy” and concluded that the LACMTA would not violate the federal requirement that federal grant recipients “conduct federally assisted procurements using full and open competition.” The board of the LACMTA had already approved the Project Labor Agreement and Construction Careers Policy at its January 26, 2012 meeting. A group closely aligned with unions called LAANE (Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy) had worked with Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to impose this union requirement on all significant transportation projects in the county. The head of the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local No. 11 is on the board of directors for LAANE.
In a memorandum to the Acting Chief Executive Officer of the California High Speed Rail Authority dated March 21, 2012, Blake Konczal – the co-chairman of the Education Committee of the Fresno Works Consortium and the executive director of the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board – proposed a set of revised “Targeted Unemployed Worker” Hire Criteria and “First Source” Transparency Requirements. In its list of proposed requirements, the proposal included these references to unions:
A mandate that to the extent that said jobs will be drawn from organized labor, that such hiring criteria also be reflective of union apprenticeship requirements.
Coordination with unions. The Contractor(s) and their sub- contractors that have an agreement with a construction union shall use the following procedures and shall inform each relevant union of these requirements:
While these provisions do not indicate that unions will be the sole source of construction trade labor, the proposal includes a reference to a Project Labor Agreement:
d. If a project labor agreement is negotiated to cover this project, such an agreement shall include a provision requiring the parties to adhere to this Targeted Unemployed Worker Program. The Contractor(s) and their subcontractors shall promptly notify the CA-HSRA of any union that fails or refuses to refer Targeted Unemployed Workers and/or Disadvantaged Workers for construction jobs on this project.
So when this memo was written, the idea was circulating in Fresno to require construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of working on the California High-Speed Rail project. And at some time between March 21, 2012 and June 19, 2012, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin learned that the U.S. Department of Transportation had declared that the Project Labor Agreement for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority did not violate federal laws. In a June 19 letter to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Mayor Swearengin wrote the following comments:
it has come to my attention that Mr. Dorvel R. Carter, Chief Counsel of the Federal Transit Administration, approved language put forward by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Administration (sic) (LACMTA) and the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council which is very similar to the Fresno Works targeted hiring program. This language focuses on establishing targeted hiring criteria in project labor agreements…we have modified our initial proposal to more closely comport with the LACMTA language that has been approved by USDOT-FTA and respectfully request that USDOT work with us to institute this revised proposed, the “National Targeted Hiring Program,” for the Initial Construction Section of the California High Speed Rail program…I look forward to discussing it with you and your team at your earliest convenience.
Copies of Mayor Swearengin’s letter calling for the Project Labor Agreement were sent to Fresno County Supervisors Susan Anderson and Henry R. Perea and California High-Speed Rail Authority board members Dan Richard and Tom Richards, who is listed as the chairman of the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board and is also the chairman and CEO of The Penstar Group, a Fresno-based real estate investment, development and construction company. Presumably this letter would have alerted them to the proposed Project Labor Agreement, although they probably already knew that a Project Labor Agreement was in the works.
Obviously the Obama Administration works quickly when unions are involved. A letter sent from the head of the Federal Railroad Administration at “Secretary LaHood’s request” dated June 29, 2012 assures Mayor Swearengin that “we would respect the choices of CHSRA in adopting a variation of a targeted hiring program so long as the program is consistent with the California state procurement policies and procedures that CHSRA uses in the expenditure of its non-Federal funds.” The letter also expressed some concerns:
We are happy to work with CHSRA to examine the revisions to the targeted hiring program and the program advanced by Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Administration’s (LACMTA) and approved by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). One distinction I note is that LACMTA, as a local government entity, is covered by 49 C.F.R. §18.36(b) through (i) while CHSRA, as a state entity, is governed by§ 18.36(a). Additionally, FRA looks forward to reviewing any final findings or recommendations resulting from the CHSRA subcommittee study of the Fresno Works proposal and CHSRA’s proposal for adopting a targeted hiring program in implementing the HST project.
The general counsel for the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board then sent a memorandum dated August 8, 2012 to the executive director of the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board summarizing a proposed “National Targeted Hiring Program” that would pass muster with the federal government. He notes the following:
The legality of the National Targeted Hiring Program is further evidenced by the U.S. D.O.T. Federal Transit Administration’s prior approval of a similar hiring program included in a project labor agreement proposed by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (“LACMTA”). The LACMTA’s project labor agreement included contractor requirements nearly identical to those proposed in the Fresno Works National Targeted Hiring Program.
In summary, the general counsel of the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board uses two letters as the basis to declare to the general counsel of the California High-Speed Rail Authority that the Fresno Works Consortium’s National Targeted Hiring Program is legal: (1) the Federal Transit Administration’s February 7, 2012 letter to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority about the acceptability of the Project Labor Agreement and (2) the U.S. Department of Transportation’s June 29, 2012 letter to Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin.
Notice three things at this stage of the development of the Project Labor Agreement:
- The Federal Railroad Administration never explicitly approved the Project Labor Agreement. The national office of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) realized this and sent a letter dated January 17, 2013 to the head of the Federal Railroad Administration asking for more information. A letter back to ABC from the Federal Railroad Administration dated March 26, 2013 stated that “We have received CHSRA’s analysis demonstrating that the proposed CBA is consistent with California’s procurement practices and policies and is otherwise consistent with state law” and also that “FRA understands the CHSRA is evaluating whether the HST project meets the criteria established in the Executive Order.”
- The union Project Labor Agreement itself is mentioned only in passing, even though by this time it is to be the vehicle for any alleged efforts to hire any “targeted” workers.
- The hiring policy no longer focuses on employment opportunities for workers in the Central Valley, where the construction will be performed.
According to the transcript of the November 14, 2012 meeting of the board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the executive director of the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board – speaking on behalf of the Fresno Works Consortium – made a presentation in conjunction with Chuck Riojas, a union official with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local No. 100. Blake Konczal told the following to the board:
…we were able to find out the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority in working with the Federal Transit Administration rather was addressing the same question. And through the Chief Legal counsel at FTA, at the Transit Administration, a man by the name of Dorvel Carter, an opinion was put forward that said it was possible to have focused or targeted hiring for areas of high long-term unemployment nationally. We were able to get ahold of the legal reasoning that went into that opinion. And through elected representatives in Fresno, a request was put forward to the Secretary of Transportation LaHood that it seemed that what the FTA was granting to Los Angeles County Transit was what the FRA was denying in our request. So Secretary LaHood asked there be a unified federal policy across the different administrations and we were able to generate a revised positive findings from Federal Rail Administration legal counsel Melissa Porter. I should mention the letters I’m referencing, I have copies if you want all went them. I can give them to you. We were ecstatic. We found a policy. We revised our policy to comport with the language that Los Angeles County had submitted and been analyzed. And then we communicated that information back to your Board.
Mr. Konczal does not mention how “we were able to find out” about the letter from the Federal Transit Administration to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Commission about the acceptability of the Project Labor Agreement. (Communication among officials of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers might be a good guess.) Nor does he name Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin as the local elected official who sent the inquiry to the U.S. Department of Transportation about using the language of that Project Labor Agreement for the California High-Speed Rail.
Mr. Konczal also added the following:
And to be clear up front and to clear up any misconception about what we’re proposing, we are not recommending a local hire program. We are not mandating the Authority or its contractors hire on the basis of any geographical region.
He is correct – the Project Labor Agreement subsequently included in the bid specifications for the Madera to Fresno segment as Addendum 8 is not a local hire program. Other than one passing reference in the preamble, there is nothing mentioned about Central Valley residents getting jobs. It is a UNION hire program, so it’s not surprising that Mr. Konczal introduced a representative of the unions to speak:
MR. KONZCAL: If I could ask Chuck Riojas to come up from the local IBEW also with the Fresno, Madera, Tulare, Kings – I think that’s all of them – Building Trades Council.
Mr. Riojas then talks about union apprenticeship programs and pre-apprenticeship programs. He claims he’s “here not to speak as a union electrician” and that “This isn’t I’d like to stress a union or non-union document” because it would give “people the opportunity to come into the respective apprenticeship programs, be it union or non-union in any apprenticeable craft.” This is not true, of course: Article 1.2 of the Project Labor Agreement specifies that apprentices shall be registered and participating in Joint Labor/Management Apprenticeship Programs.
And in fact California High-Speed Rail Authority chairman Dan Richard concludes discussion of the proposal by noting “there had been a lot of very positive discussions with the construction trades, the represented union, and making sure that this program dovetails with what is the normal course of business there.” He has no qualms about the union requirements.
At their December 6, 2012 meeting, the board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority approved a “Community Benefits Policy” that contained no references to a Project Labor Agreement. That policy was then incorporated internally and administratively into the Project Labor Agreement with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, which was added to bid specifications in late December 2012.
Here are questions that remain to be answered:
- Is the Project Labor Agreement for California High-Speed Rail actually acceptable to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration?
- Did Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin know that she was submitting an inquiry to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation asking about the acceptability of a union Project Labor Agreement for the California High-Speed Rail? Why did she help the effort to give unions a monopoly on this project?
- Is there a connection between the quest of the Fresno Works Consortium for a Project Labor Agreement and the quest of the Fresno Works Consortium to get Fresno selected as the site for the California High-Speed Rail Heavy Maintenance Facility?
- Why is there so little overt involvement of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors and staff in the development of the hiring policy? Was this to avoid an apparent conflict of interest involving the board member who was head of the state’s construction unions? Or are there reasons not yet known that might be troubling to the public if revealed?
- To what extent did Fresno-based California High-Speed Rail Authority board member Tom Richards know about the union Project Labor Agreement?
- Who tipped off the Fresno Works Consortium that it should adopt the Project Labor Agreement and associated Construction Careers policy implemented at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority?
- Does this process build public confidence in California High-Speed Rail?
Background and Sources:
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 – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – January 11, 2013
California High-Speed Rail Authority Keeps Union Deal Out of Public Forums – my article in www.FlashReport.org – February 10, 2013
www.CaliforniaHighSpeedRailScam.com – your centralized source for key information about the debacle that is the California High-Speed Passenger Train for the 21st Century.