Tag Archive for Santa Cruz Sentinel

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

Happy Holidays: News Coverage of California Labor Issues on Labor Day 2012

It seems to me that Labor Day news coverage focusing on labor union issues in California was much less in 2012 than in past years. I have a big file of Labor Day press clips from when unions were flying high during the years of Governor Gray Davis (1999-2003), but this year’s news coverage is fairly sparse.

Here’s various Labor Day 2012 news stories, opinion pieces, and press releases about labor unions and labor policy issues in California:

Los Angeles Daily News article (On Labor Day, Trying Times for Organized Labor – Los Angeles Daily News – September 2, 2012) reports that unions are on the defensive in politics, in commerce, and in collective bargaining for government employees.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported on the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council‘s annual Labor Day picnic in Santa Cruz. Quotes from attendees mainly refer to the legislative accomplishments of unions from 125 years ago. The Vice President of the Labor Council is quoted as saying, “Who had ever heard of a weekend before the unions came along? People assume it’s there and always has been there, and it hasn’t.” See Picnic Draws Union Members to DeLaveaga Park – Santa Cruz Sentinel – September 3, 2012.

As reported in the Sacramento Bee, unions provided food for the homeless on Labor Day and received some positive press coverage: Unions Supply Volunteers for Labor Day Lunch at Loaves & Fishes – Sacramento Bee – September 3, 2012. Many of the 75 comments about the article cynically accuse the unions of a public relations stunt.

KQED in San Francisco posted a blog providing a brief history of union power in San Francisco in the early 1900s. Labor Day Special: The San Francisco Waterfront Strike of 1901 – KQED – August 31, 2012.

Los Angeles Times pro-union columnist Michael Hiltzik provided a positive union perspective through a report on the rigors of apprenticeship training for the Ironworkers Union Local No. 416 and Ironworkers Union Local 433 in Southern California. (Ironworkers Union Gives Skills to Members, Public Safety to All – Los Angeles Times – September 2, 2012.) This column relies on the old image of labor unions: a brotherhood of men centered around tough, dangerous work in the construction trades. It also acknowledges some of the shortcomings of unions, including the result of the Ironworkers union having a monopoly on state-approved apprenticeship training for the trade:

Getting into the ironworkers apprenticeship program isn’t a snap. It may help to have a relative, or even a well-wishing neighbor or family friend, in the Ironworkers, but that’s not a prerequisite, nor is it enough. Applicants, who have to be at least 18 with a high school diploma or equivalent, must line up a construction contractor willing to sponsor them with at least six weeks of employment before they can start. That explains why, with the local construction market still soft and the building trades still suffering from about 40% unemployment, there’s a waiting list of about 5,000 applicants looking for sponsors right now.

So there’s a waiting list of 5000 people for how many spots? And nepotism is still important to get in? This is an example of how apprenticeship programs can be used to control who and how many people enter the construction workforce.

Meanwhile, Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters took a more relevant and contemporary view on the influence of labor unions in California. Here are excerpts from California Unions Hold Power but Face Peril – Sacramento Bee – September 3, 2012:

Anyone who was paying attention to the California Legislature during the hectic final days of the 2012 session last week could see the political clout of the state’s labor unions.

Countless union-backed bills whipped through the Capitol and onto Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. Although union lobbyists lost a few battles, they could count many more victories.

With the Legislature’s Democratic majority utterly beholden to unions for political sustenance and with a governor, Jerry Brown, whose 2010 campaign relied on union financing, unions and their 2.4 million members are at the apogee of political influence.

Finally, a writer for the leftist San Diego Free Press asks this ridiculous question on September 3, 2012: Is This California’s Last Labor Day? This article focuses on Proposition 32, a statewide measure described on the November 6, 2012 ballot as follows: “Prohibits unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. Applies same use prohibition to payroll deductions, if any, by corporations or government contractors. Prohibits union and corporate contributions to candidates and their committees. Prohibits government contractor contributions to elected officers or their committees.”

This doesn’t seem unreasonable, but recognize that labor unions, big corporations, and government contractors are all in cahoots in California to perpetuate Big Government, at the expense of individuals and small businesses. Proposition 32 would stop some of that special interest money funding state and local political campaigns, while unions and their cronies in business are determined to keep the status quo by convincing a majority of voters to reject it.

In 2012, Election Day is more important to California unions than Labor Day. Perhaps that’s why there was little news coverage.