Tag Archive for Luis Alejo

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

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.

Watsonville City Council Imposes Requirement for Construction Contractors to Sign Project Labor Agreement with Unions

The City of Watsonville (in Santa Cruz County) has become the second city in Northern California (after Berkeley) and the sixth city in California to enact a blanket policy requiring its construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of work. On October 8, the Watsonville City Council voted 5-1 (with one absence) to impose the union-backed policy as an ordinance for all projects of $600,000 or more.

Councilwoman Trina Coffman-Gomez was the only vote against the Project Labor Agreement ordinance. Please thank Councilwoman Coffman-Gomez via this web site. (Councilwoman Nancy Bilicich, who voted against the ordinance in its first reading at the September 24 meeting, was absent from the October 8 meeting.)

The $600,000 project cost threshold for the policy was a compromise. Staff had proposed a threshold of $1 million for the policy, but union officials demanded a lower threshold of $250,000, as noted in a September 10, 2013 staff report to the city council:

The Santa Cruz and Monterey Building and Trades Council have recommended a project cost of $250,000 or more to initiate the use of PLA’s for City projects. The rationale is that with a smaller cost threshold, more projects would be included under the PLA program, which would lead to more union memberships and a stronger apprenticeship program.

After the policy was approved 5-1 (with one absence) in its first reading at the city council’s September 24 meeting, union officials provided the city council and staff with a draft Project Labor Agreement.

Construction unions have tried in the past to convince the Watsonville City Council to enact policies that discourage Merit Shop contractors from bidding on city contracts. At an October 8, 2002 meeting, the city council voted 5-2 for a union-backed discriminatory apprenticeship ordinance. In 2004, unions demanded but did not get a a Project Labor Agreement for the Watsonville Civic Center – a 186,000 square foot building for city offices, Santa Cruz County Superior Courts, a library, an Agricultural Workers History Museum, and private lease space. As leverage, the Carpenters Union Local No. 505 filed a petition with the California Department of Industrial Relations for a prevailing wage coverage determination on an adjacent parking garage already under construction.

The Watsonville City Council is reportedly dominated by a local political machine led by Democrat Assemblyman Luis Alejo, who used to serve on the city council. His wife is now Mayor pro Tempore. There are seven individual council districts in this city of about 50,000 people, and city council members tend to be elected with 1000 votes or less. In the November 2012 election, the candidates for four city council seats ran unopposed.

News Coverage

Watsonville Council: Projects Over $600,000 to Require Union AgreementSanta Cruz Sentinel – October 8, 2013

Council Approves Union-Friendly OrdinanceWatsonville Register-Pajaronian – October 9, 2013

Watsonville City Council: Want City Project Work? Pay Bribes – California Political News & Views (blog) – October 9, 2013

Watsonville Mulls Pro-Labor Public Works Ordinance – Santa Cruz Sentinel – October 1, 2013