Tag Archive for Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

Sonoma County Will Get Its First Government-Mandated Project Labor Agreement: County Projects Over $10 Million

After hearing public comments from 71 speakers and spending hours deliberating on technical aspects of Project Labor Agreement provisions, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors agreed on January 14, 2014 to vote at their next meeting (January 28) on their own version of a policy to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions for projects with construction costs over $10 million.

It’s the first government-mandated Project Labor Agreement in Sonoma County. Board chairman David Rabbitt said that the number of comment cards submitted at the meeting for the agenda item (90 total) was a record.

Back of T-shirts worn by union activists at Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting.

Back of T-shirts worn by union activists at Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting.

Union officials have been lobbying the Board of Supervisors for a Project Labor Agreement for two years. In September 2012, the board considered a policy but did not enact it because a 3-2 majority did not support it.

In the November 2012 election, retiring Supervisor Valerie Brown (who opposed a Project Labor Agreement) was replaced by Susan Gorin, a Santa Rosa City Councilmember who supports Project Labor Agreements. Unions backed her campaign. Gorin defeated Santa Rosa City Councilmember John Sawyer, who opposed Project Labor Agreements, 24,033 votes to 22,251 votes (51.8% to 47.9%). The Project Labor Agreement was then inevitable.

An ad-hoc committee was formed in 2013 to develop a Project Labor Agreement that could win consensus from the Board of Supervisors. After the final version was produced, a business coalition opposed to the Project Labor Agreement proposed their changes, and building trade unions proposed their changes. At the January 14 meeting, the board spent hours compromising and agreeing on various disputed provisions.

In more than 16 years fighting Project Labor Agreements in California, it was the first time I saw elected officials take their jobs seriously to create their own agreement, rather than simply approving a boilerplate model from the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO with a few variations negotiated by staff and union officials. Supervisors emphasized that the policy was for the county, not for special interest groups.

Nevertheless, the adoption of this policy gives unions a foothold to eventually expand it to almost all county construction, provided a solid union-backed majority continues to control the board. For example, Solano County adopted a Project Labor Agreement policy with a threshold of $10 million, but Supervisors approved special exceptions in which contractors were required to sign a Project Labor Agreement, even for a $957,000 project (321 Tuolumne remodel at the county’s Vallejo campus). In addition, the Santa Rosa City Council and the Santa Rosa Junior College board of trustees have voted in the past not to use Project Labor Agreements, and surely unions will again target these local governments. They now have a precedent in Sonoma County.

Eric Christen of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction speaks to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors against the proposed Project Labor Agreement policy.

Eric Christen of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction speaks to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors against the proposed Project Labor Agreement policy.

Background

January 14, 2014 Sonoma County Board of Supervisors – Agenda and Staff Report

Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Ad-Hoc Committee Report and Project Labor Agreement

Sonoma County Past and Future Major Construction Projects

Sonoma-Mendocino-Lake Counties Building & Construction Trades Council Proposed Changes

The Coalition Against Sonoma County Project Labor Agreements Proposed Changes

Comparison of Three Versions of Project Labor Agreements

Sonoma County Taxpayers Association Opposes Project Labor Agreement

Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction Demands Environmental Impact Report for Proposed Policy Giving Unions Monopoly on County of Sonoma Construction Contracts

News Coverage

Push for Worker Benefits on Sonoma County Projects Returns – Santa Rosa Press-Democrat – January 12, 2014

Sonoma County Project Labor Agreements Could Have Lower Cost Threshold – North Bay Business Journal – January 13, 2014

Bringing Blunt Force to Public Works Contracts – editorial – Santa Rosa Press-Democrat – January 14, 2014

Sonoma County Supervisors Appear to Back Project Labor Agreements – North Bay Business Journal – January 14, 2014

County Supervisors Signal Support for Project Labor AgreementsSanta Rosa Press-Democrat – January 15, 2014

Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction Challenges Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Environmental Impact of Project Labor Agreements

On January 14, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on a policy requiring construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement in order to work on county contracts for projects with a cost exceeding $1 million. This policy has been in the works for a couple of years, and a Project Labor Agreement Ad-Hoc Committee has been developing a possible agreement. (See official county background on the Project Labor Agreement Ad-Hoc Committee that formed and met in 2013.)

The November 2012 election allowed the unions to attain a 3-2 majority on the Board of Supervisors in support of it, after Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Susan Gorin narrowly defeated Santa Rosa Councilman John Sawyer for an open seat held by Valerie Brown. Local elections are meaningful!

The Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction issued a media alert this morning -(January 8, 2014): Coalition Demands Environmental Impact Report for Proposed Policy Giving Unions Monopoly on County of Sonoma Construction Contracts. It includes the text of a seven-page letter declaring the following:

The County has overlooked statutes and guidelines of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and failed to consider how the Project Labor Agreement policy will cause either a direct physical change in the environment or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment. Nor has it considered feasible alternatives to the Project Labor Agreement policy that would avoid complications to current traffic patterns or increases in greenhouse gas emissions. To determine and mitigate these impacts and allow for legitimate consideration of alternatives, the County is required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to prepare an Environmental Impact Report.

When the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors first considered a Project Labor Agreement at its September 18, 2012 meeting for the Charles M. Schulz – Sonoma County Airport Runway Safety Area (RSA) Improvement Project, staff claimed that a Project Labor Agreement would “help create a sustainable economy” and would be “aiding the County’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” I submitted a letter to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors responding to that unsubstantiated claim.

Here are my past posts about the Project Labor Agreement fight in Sonoma County:

Attention Embattled Sonoma County Taxpayers: Prepare for Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to Vote on Costly Project Labor Agreement Policy – May 19, 2012 – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com

Proposed Union Project Labor Agreement for Sonoma County Might Just Save the Planet… – September 13, 2012 – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com

My Letter to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors: Project Labor Agreement Policy Requires an Initial Study Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) – September 17, 2012 – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com

Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Abandons Project Labor Agreement Policy; Instead Directs Staff to Negotiate Project Labor Agreement for Sonoma County Airport Expansion – September 19, 2012 – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com

Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Abandons Project Labor Agreement Policy; Instead Directs Staff to Negotiate Project Labor Agreement for Sonoma County Airport Expansion

UPDATE: This article was reprinted in www.theTruthaboutPLAs.com on September 21, 2012 as Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Abandons Project Labor Agreement Policy; Instead Directs Staff to Negotiate Project Labor Agreement for Sonoma County Airport Expansion.

Opponents of a proposed Project Labor Agreement policy for Sonoma County rally on September 18, 2012.

Opponents of a proposed Project Labor Agreement policy for Sonoma County rally on September 18, 2012. The signs say “WHY? WHY are you trying to solve a problem that your staff says doesn’t exist?”

Without a vote, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors directed county staff on September 18, 2012 to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with unions and with the input of contractors for the planned $54 million expansion of the runways at the Charles M. Schultz Sonoma County Airport. Supervisors listed numerous items to be addressed in the negotiations and asked staff to present an agreement to the board for consideration within two months.The original agenda item was to approve a policy to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of winning Sonoma County contracts for projects of $25 million or more.

After almost five hours of staff presentations, public comment, and board deliberations, the county board chairwoman Shirlee Zane (the primary advocate for the Project Labor Agreement) concluded that other board members had too many concerns about the content and meaning of the policy to reach a consensus. Supervisors Valerie Brown, David Rabbitt, and Efren Carrillo all had multiple concerns about how the policy would be implemented. Supervisor Mike McGuire stated his support for a policy with a threshold not less than $25 million, but didn’t show much interest in joining Supervisor Zane to push the proposed policy.

Government meetings to deliberate proposed Project Labor Agreements have taken an increasing amount of time over the years as supporters and opponents have become more sophisticated in their arguments and political strategies. This deliberation was the longest I’ve experienced in 15 years of fighting Project Labor Agreements in California, even exceeding the length of the March 2010 deliberation of the Riverside Community College District Board of Trustees for its Project Labor Agreement.

At this meeting, 23 people spoke in support of the union policy and 29 people spoke against the union policy. Besides construction trade union officials and apprentices, supporters of the Project Labor Agreement included San Rafael City Council member (and former College of Marin Board of Trustees member) Greg Brockbank, Santa Rosa School Board member Laura Gonzalez (read her thank you note to Supervisor Zane), and Marty Bennett, a professor at Santa Rosa Junior College. Lisa Maldonado – executive director of the North Bay Labor Council – tried to frame the debate as class warfare between “wealthy families” and “workers who pay most of the taxes” and accused opponents of the Project Labor Agreement of exploiting illegal immigrants. She also Tweeted these comments:

Lisa Maldonado @LaMujerObrera

  • Wont Get Fooled Again! Special Shout Out to Supervisor Carrillo!: http://youtu.be/Rp6-wG5LLqE 
  • Spanks to Supervisors Brown, Rabbit & Carrillo for turning your backs on working families and supporting those who exploit workers!
  • Thanks to Supervisors McGuire & Zane for their tireless support of working families and local hire!
  • Supervisor Rabbit continues to back up North Bay Builders exchange anti worker supporters who got him elected. #scabsupervisor!
  • Why are the Associated Builders threatening our Board of Supervisors if they don’t vote their way? Talk about THUGS! pic.twitter.com/h3dZnhGI
  • Press Democrat’s new low: helping Scab Builders (aka their advertisers) threaten our Supervisors to Vote their way! (& they call us THUGS!?)
  • Scab builders can afford expensive advertising in the Press Democrat because they cheat & exploit workers #scablies pic.twitter.com/lHs0oSBM
  • Check out the ad that scabbuilders placed in the PD today. It’s expensive but it comes with an editorial of UR choice pic.twitter.com/jIKvTk02
  • Well now we know why the press Democrat did editorial on PLA while the middle east is on fire! I guess it really PAYS to advertise #noethics

And subsequently from the top labor official in the North Bay:

  • I thought@EfrenCarrillo’s public brawling was embarrassing. Then I saw his behavior in betraying working families & pandering to Keith Woods
  • Well Money still talks in Sonoma County. The interests of tChamber, theNCBE & the uber rich Soiland family are first with Rabbit, Carrillo !
  • @EfrenCarrillo: re: ur betrayal of workers last night-Now We know how the guy you knocked out in a bar feels. did u hit him from behind too?
  • It’s a sad thing when crazy Tea Partiers are your only defenders! #Carrillodoesntfightfair
  • Last night we saw Big Business owns Sonoma BOS. Xcept for McGuire & Zane We need Susan Gorin, NOT John Sawyer another tool of Asphalt Money!
  • @EfrenCarrillo Too bad there were no “rowdies” at the PLA vote, perhaps then you would have ‘defended’ working people?!
  • Dime Con Quien Andas y Te Dire’ Quien Eres! ( Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are) .#thingsmyabuelasaid #Efrenimies
  • Muchisimas Gracias to Supervisors McGuire & Zane for supporting PLA’s workers & apprentices & good middle class jobs!

Opposing the Project Labor Agreement policy as proposed were representatives of several construction trade associations (the North Coast Builders Exchange, the Northern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, and the Western Electrical Contractors Association), the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, and the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association. I also spoke as a follow up to my September 17, 2012 email to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors about the Project Labor Agreement policy.

Below is a compilation of news media coverage.

NEWS MEDIA COVERAGE

Supervisors Stick Up for the 85 Percent – North Bay Business Journal (editorial) – October 5, 2012

Supervisors Divided Over PLA Details: Staff to Answer Board Concerns in Two Months – North Bay Business Journal – September 24, 2012

Sonoma County Spurns Blanket Union Plan for Big Public Projects – Santa Rosa Press-Democrat – September 19, 2012

Sonoma County Supervisors Want More Study on Project Labor Agreements – North Bay Business Journal – September 19, 2012

Sonoma County Supervisors to Consider Project Labor Agreement: Strong Public Input Expected on Tuesday – North Bay Business Journal – September 17, 2012

County Fails to Make Case for Favoring Unions – Santa Rosa Press-Democrat (editorial) – September 16, 2012

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

PLA Proponents Must Prove Benefits – North Bay Business Journal – October 8, 2012 

September 18, 2012 Unions Rally to Support Project Labor Agreement Policy for Sonoma County

Unions rally to support a proposed Project Labor Agreement policy for Sonoma County on September 18, 2012. The portable electronic road sign in the background says “No PLA.”

My Letter to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors: Project Labor Agreement Policy Requires an Initial Study Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

Union officials and representatives plan to pack the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting on September 18, 2012 to push for what they expect to be a vote to adopt the first government-mandated Project Labor Agreement policy in Sonoma County.

There is absolutely no reason for the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to adopt such a policy, except that the head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local No. 551 in Santa Rosa apparently doesn’t want to see a Merit Shop electrical contractor compete for and win a contract for Sonoma County’s upcoming $42 million Charles M. Schultz – Sonoma County Airport Runway Safety Improvements Project. This is about unions using political clout and manipulating the government to cut competition at the expense of taxpayers. It is not about logic.

Sonoma County Electronic Billboard Oppose Project Labor Agreement

A portable electronic road sign parked across the street from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors offices before sunrise on September 18, 2012 opposes the proposed Project Labor Agreement policy.

An editorial in the September 17, 2012 Santa Rosa Press-Democrat (County Fails to Make Case for Favoring Unions) recommended against the policy because it doesn’t have a purpose:

So here’s the primary question we have: What problem is being resolved by adopting a policy such as this? Amid all the material being presented to supervisors, there’s no evidence of construction delays, cost overruns or unfair labor practices on county projects that might warrant such a solution.

And why now? Given that so many in the building industry are struggling to find work, the timing couldn’t be worse.

We also question why this needs to be decided at a policy level. At the least, project labor agreements should be considered on a project-by-project basis, not as a blanket policy.

There may be an argument for project labor agreements in some circumstances. But the county has not made its case to contractors or to taxpayers. As it is, it’s a solution in search of a problem and should be shelved.

Sonoma County staff didn’t bother to collect any data or do any research and analysis on how this Project Labor Agreement policy will actually work in practice and affect air quality and traffic. As I wrote in a blog post on September 14 (Proposed Union Project Labor Agreement for Sonoma County Might Just Save the Planet…), the policy insinuates that unions will provide local workers under the Project Labor Agreement, thus helping to make a more sustainable economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There is no proof of this whatsoever.

I sent the Board of Supervisors an email last night pointing this out. The text is below:


Sent: Monday, September 17, 2012

To: Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

Subject: Agenda Item #42: Proposed Project Labor Agreement Policy Requires an Initial Study Under CEQA

Dear Board of Supervisors:

The “Policy Regarding the Use and Promotion of Local Contractors and Local Workforce on Construction Projects” (hereafter referred to as the Project Labor Agreement policy) on the September 18, 2012 meeting agenda of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors requires an Initial Study under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) before you proceed with adopting it.

The Project Labor Agreement policy insinuates as self-evident that this policy will “help create a sustainable economy” and will be “aiding the County’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” Actually, this Project Labor Agreement policy has the potential to hinder a sustainable economy and has the potential to increase greenhouse gas emissions through more commuting traffic. It changes the nature of Sonoma County public works construction projects in a way that may result in a direct or reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment.

This policy may actually discourage local hiring and increase traffic and greenhouse gas emissions as workers dispatched through the union hiring halls under the Project Labor Agreement commute to the job site from Napa County, Solano County, Contra Costa County, and San Francisco. At some point they will probably need to use Highway 101. How will this affect air quality and transportation/traffic?

The county has failed to collect and compile data concerning how this Project Labor Agreement policy will alter commuting patterns to encourage migration of union workers into Sonoma County, thus potentially resulting in significant impacts of construction traffic for both short term and long term project elements. Neither does the county provide socioeconomic data for workforce availability to back up any of the claims made about the policy’s alleged impact on the environment.

Assumptions about local hiring and Project Labor Agreements are often wrong. For example, on February 24, 2010, a committee of the San Diego City Council directed the city attorney to develop a local hiring policy that would encourage contractors to have 70 percent of employees on city construction projects as residents of San Diego County. Union officials declared that the policy that could meet this goal would be a Project Labor Agreement. But certified payroll records analyzed by city staff showed that about 90 percent of workers on city construction projects covered by prevailing wage in 2009 were already residents of San Diego County. The Project Labor Agreement policy would have encouraged a goal that would have reduced local hiring, perhaps to accommodate large union geographical jurisdictions and the status of travelers. In the end, the proposal was not enacted.

Below is a list of issues that Sonoma County properly and legally needs to consider as it studies the potential for direct or reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment as a result of the Project Labor Agreement policy as proposed at the September 18, 2012 meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

  • No information is provided concerning the number or percentage of construction trade workers on recent Sonoma County projects who are permanent residents of Sonoma County. How can the county assume that this policy has no measurable impact on the environment if it doesn’t have any statistics regarding the current environmental situation it is supposed to improve? It may actually harm the environment.
  • No information is provided concerning the number or percentage of construction trade workers on recent Sonoma County projects who are permanent residents of Sonoma County and were represented by a union during that time of employment.
  • No information is provided concerning the number or percentage of construction trade workers on recent Sonoma County projects who are permanent residents of Sonoma County and were not represented by a union during that time of employment. Based on the published membership of construction trade associations, it seems that Sonoma County is home to a substantial number of medium-sized non-union subcontractors that perform public works construction on building structures, as well as a few large and some medium-sized non-union general contractors that perform public works construction on building structures. These companies are likely to have a workforce that substantially lives in Sonoma County.
  • No information is provided concerning the total number or percentage of construction trade workers who are permanent residents of Sonoma County and who are employed by construction companies that are bound to a collective bargaining agreement with trade unions.
  • No information is provided concerning the number or percentage of construction trade workers who are permanent residents of Sonoma County and who are employed by construction companies that are not bound to a collective bargaining agreement with trade unions.
  • No information is provided concerning the number of construction workers in each specific construction trade who are permanent residents of Sonoma County and are members of a union and are also actively working or seeking work through the union hiring halls. 
  • No information is provided about the geographical jurisdictions of the construction trade unions that will be dispatching workers to construction companies performing contract work for the county under the terms and conditions of the Project Labor Agreement.
  • No information is provided about the specific procedures and policies used by the applicable construction trade unions to dispatch workers to construction companies under the Project Labor Agreement. For example, which workers get priority in dispatch? Will unions scramble their lists to favor a Sonoma County resident, as a result unfairly bypassing a Marin County resident who was rightfully at the top of the waiting list for dispatch? That seems unlikely. Note that a Project Labor Agreement can only set goals for local hiring – it can’t require local hiring.
  • No information is provided concerning whether or not a worker who is “hired through a Sonoma County-based hiring hall” is necessarily going to be a resident of Sonoma County. Union general contractors and subcontractors that perform public works building construction often have large market regions that encompass the entire San Francisco Bay Area. Even the staff report for the Project Labor Agreement policy acknowledges that “The disadvantage of limiting Core Workers is that a local contractor may be required to use workers dispatched through the hall that are not actually county residents.”
  • No information is provided about the likely bidders for the “Sonoma County Airport Runway Safety Improvements project,” which is cited as the first project targeted for a Project Labor Agreement. How many prospective bidders for this work are based in Sonoma County? In particular, which electrical contractors are likely to bid on it?
  • No information is provided about the number of workers by trade needed for the “Sonoma County Airport Runway Safety Improvements project” and the amount of working days anticipated for these workers. Is there going to be a caravan driving up from San Francisco every morning? Will the unions provide buses?
  • Will the Project Labor Agreement policy increase traffic and greenhouse gas emissions more for some trades than other trades? It is absurd to make blanket statements about the construction workforce as a whole. It appears that some trades – such as Ironworker – are dominated by union workers, while other trades such as Painter seem to be dominated by non-union workers. Note that there is one Ironworker collective bargaining agreement and one prevailing wage determination for the entire state, which suggests that workers can travel for work within a large jurisdiction. Painters who work in Sonoma County presumably are more likely to actually live in Sonoma County.
  • Membership numbers cited by unions are often deceptive and need to be thoroughly analyzed by the county. Some trade unions represent public employees as well as – or rather than – building trade workers who are dispatched to construction contractors. Also, just because someone paid union dues in the previous year doesn’t necessarily mean that person is available for work in the area. A distinction also needs to be made between active members and retirees.

In its opening brief submitted to the California Supreme Court in State Building and Construction Trades Council v. City of Vista, the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California states that “construction workers today routinely commute to projects outside the cities in which they happen to live” and “it is not uncommon for today’s construction workers to commute more than 100 miles to work at a job site.” This is presumably the true nature of union construction under a Project Labor Agreement policy. Sonoma County needs to conduct an Initial Study to determine what this means for the environment.

Sincerely,

Kevin Dayton, President & CEO, Labor Issues Solutions, LLC

Proposed Union Project Labor Agreement for Sonoma County Might Just Save the Planet…

UPDATE: At the link immediately below is the final version of the proposed Sonoma County Project Labor Agreement policy, provided by staff to Jack Buckhorn, Business Manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local No. 551 in Santa Rosa and to Keith Woods, CEO of the North Coast Builders Exchange in Santa Rosa. They are the de facto leaders of the two opposing factions in this fight over the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors requiring contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with unions for certain taxpayer-funded county construction projects.

Proposed Union Project Labor Agreement Policy for Certain Taxpayer-Funded Construction Projects of Sonoma County

Also, here is a link to my earlier report about the development of the proposed Project Labor Agreement in Sonoma County:

Attention Embattled Sonoma County Taxpayers: Prepare for Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to Vote on Costly Project Labor Agreement Policy


Under the horizontal line below is the intended text of the Project Labor Agreement (PLA) policy that county administrative staff is recommending to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors for approval as Agenda Item #42 at the board’s meeting at 2:10 p.m. on the afternoon of Tuesday, September 18. This Project Labor Agreement policy is disguised as something that will bring local contractors and local workers on county construction projects. The term “Project Labor Agreement” is not even mentioned on the agenda!

42.  2:10 P.M. – Adopt a Policy for the Use and Promotion of Local Contractors and Local Workforce on Construction Projects.

To try to make this union Project Labor Agreement appealing to Sonoma County residents, the cited rationale for the policy is environmental protection, resulting from the “local” nature of the project when unions have a monopoly on it.

I’ve seen this tactic many times before. My personal favorite is when the head of the Carpenters Union in San Joaquin County gave this handwritten note to the county administrator: Call It a Local Hire Agreement. As Nicole Goehring (Government Affairs Director of the Northern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors) wrote in a July 19, 2007 opinion piece in the Tracy Press entitled Sneaky Strategy Gives Unions Monopoly:

One interesting document the Associated Builders and Contractors obtained through our public records request was a handwritten note dated Oct. 10, 2006, from carpenters union official Augie Beltran to County Administrator Manny Lopez. The note gives Lopez some public relations advice about the project labor agreement: “When you bring it to the Board, please refer to it as a ‘local hire agreement.’”

Apparently, referring to the project labor agreement honestly as a “union-only agreement” would have tipped off the opposition and the county board about the true intent of the proposal: cutting the competition and increasing the cost of the new County Administrative Center for the benefit of one special-interest group.

You are supposed to believe that when a contractor signs a Project Labor Agreement with a union, it helps to “create a sustainable economy” and “reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” Why? Construction workers who belong to a union or are represented by a union always live close to the job site and might even get there via bicycle, with their tools reclining in handsome recycled leather handlebar pouches. In contrast, construction workers who choose not to belong to a union always come from somewhere far away, probably in smog-belching trucks with a heavy metal tool box in the truck bed. Union officials always point out that non-union workers are never local, no matter where they are, perhaps because they live on libertarian city states on floating platforms in international waters.

Anyone who believes union Project Labor Agreements ensure local hiring have to ignore the claim of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California in its opening brief submitted to the California Supreme Court in State Building and Construction Trades Council v. City of Vista, in which it acknowledges that “construction workers today routinely commute to projects outside the cities in which they happen to live” and “it is not uncommon for today’s construction workers to commute more than 100 miles to work at a job site.”

That’s why the policy defines “local” as someone who is “hired through a Sonoma County-based hiring hall.” Union workers can come from anywhere as “travelers” to be dispatched to a union contractor on a Sonoma County project from a Sonoma County-based union hiring hall. The unions needed a trick to exempt themselves from the residency requirement.


Policy Regarding the Use and Promotion of Local Contractors and Local Workforce on Construction Projects

The County of Sonoma recognizes that strategies that promote the use of local vendors and service providers help create a sustainable economy and preserve local businesses. The use of local businesses helps retain local dollars within the community and strengthen employment.  Using a local workforce can also mean a reduction in transportation, aiding the County’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The County periodically awards construction contracts, which employ significant numbers of employees in various trades and many County residents possess the skills required of such construction efforts and are in need of employment.  The County of Sonoma encourages, within the constraints of current state and federal law, the employment of local contractors and local workforce on County construction projects.

In order to support the use of local hiring and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the County has previously adopted the Local Preference Policy for Goods and Services, the Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Policy, and the Job Order Contracting Program.

To further encourage the hiring of local contractors and workforce and consistent with existing state and federal law and the interests of the public, the County will negotiate project labor agreements (PLA) for significant new construction projects budgeted at over $25 million to achieve the following:

Develop a local, skilled workforce through use of apprenticeship programs and internship programs

Maximize the use of local workforce by encouraging all contractors and subcontractors to bid for and be awarded work on County projects without regard to whether they are otherwise parties to collective bargaining agreements

Contractors and subcontracts may use their own core workforce (defined as persons on the contractor’s or subcontractor’s payroll for 60 of the preceding 100 days)

Contractors and subcontractors agree to use union hiring halls for any new hires beyond their own core workforce

No worker will be required to join a union as a condition of employment, but may be required to pay union representation fees 

Encourage a diverse workforce through outreach to underrepresented businesses and groups, including women, minorities, and veterans

Ensure that in hiring and dispatching workers for the project, no discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or membership in a union or labor organization

Ensure that no  increase in project costs be incurred by the  County related to implementing a PLA or similar agreement

Ensure health, welfare, and retirement benefits are provided for workers

Guarantee no work stoppages or delays due to labor relations disputes, including union-to-union jurisdictional disputes, and provide for expedited dispute resolution with no obligation for the County to intervene in the proceedings to resolve the dispute or grievance

If a PLA or similar project stabilization agreement is pursued, only one agreement per project and all unions must be signatories to the agreement

In negotiating a PLA or similar agreement, staff will take into account the goals listed above as well as the level of risk of labor strife that would negatively impact the project, the project’s budget, schedule, scope and complexity, the number of trades required, and whether use of a PLA or other mechanism would negatively impact the number or quality of bidders.  In all instances, the County must meet all competitive bidding and contracting requirements applicable to public works projects.

“Local” means any of the following:

For contractors:  Contractor has a physical address located in Sonoma County and performs business on an on-going basis at that address, and, if located in a city within Sonoma County, holds a valid business license of that city, if required to do so by that city; or contractor employs a workforce in which greater than 50% of the workers live in Sonoma County.

For workers:  A person who is Sonoma County resident or hired through a Sonoma County-based hiring hall.

Any such agreement must also meet the requirements of Public Contract Code section 2500.

Draft for Discussion Purposes Only

September 7, 2012 version


Attention Embattled Sonoma County Taxpayers: Prepare for Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to Vote on Costly Project Labor Agreement Policy

In California, the battle continues at county governments over requiring all contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions as a condition of working on taxpayer-funded construction. In the future, the Dayton Public Policy Institute will produce and post a chart summarizing all Project Labor Agreement activity at California’s 58 county governments since the unions’ government-mandated PLA movement started in the 1990s. In the meantime, here is a report on the latest county to be targeted by unions: Sonoma County, in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Like the unions’ recent unsuccessful pushes for Project Labor Agreements in Santa Barbara County and Ventura County, the campaign for a Project Labor Agreement policy in Sonoma County began with an unsubstantiated union claim that the county needed a local hire policy. Union lobbying to solve this non-existent problem in Sonoma County was underway in August 2011. Soon the unions dropped their pretense and began openly campaigning to get a Project Labor Agreement policy.

On December 20, 2011, Sonoma County staff convened the first of a series of joint meetings with local representatives of the construction industry and with union officials to try to develop a Project Labor Agreement that served the needs of the county while being acceptable to contractors and unions. Subsequent meetings occurred on January 17, February 24, March 26, and on May 16, 2012.

I attended the last meeting on May 16. Representing the unions were Lisa Maldonado (Executive Director of the North Bay Labor Council), Jack Buckhorn (a California Apprenticeship Council commissioner and Business Manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local No. 551), and Tom Mattis (Field Representative for Carpenters Union Local No. 180). Representing contractors were Keith Woods (executive director of the North Bay Builders Exchange) and two contractors belonging to that group, along with Eric Christen of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction. (Nicole Goehring of the Golden Gate Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors was unable to attend this particular meeting.) Caught in the crossfire were County Administrator Veronica Ferguson and several members of her staff.

Ferguson held these meetings because she had some success in 2007 reaching a compromise between contractor representatives and unions for a revised Project Labor Agreement policy at Solano County. Neither side particularly liked the outcome. (Does this indicate a good compromise?) Worse for the contractors, the Solano County Board of Supervisors simply overrode the policy for individual projects when the unions demanded control of the work.

Not only was that compromise undesirable to the two opposing construction industry factions, but economic circumstances have changed dramatically from 2007 to 2012. Opportunities for work are few and infrequent, and construction union leaders see Project Labor Agreements as essential to cutting competition and guaranteeing work for their members.

In addition, to me it appeared there was no hope for compromise or even reasonable discussion as long as the North Bay Labor Council’s leader Lisa Maldonado was present in the meeting. Coming from outside the “business unionism” culture of the building trades, she seemed more interested in an ideological crusade against capitalism than in pragmatic discussions concerning the county’s bid specifications for construction projects and how a Project Labor Agreement would be implemented by employers and the county in practice. Maldonado is a participant and teacher in the Bay Area Troublemakers School Workshops and knows that the power of government must be wielded to suppress reactionary elements.

After a couple hours of bickering, ripostes, and accusations revolving around a compromise proposal produced by Veronica Ferguson, Maldonado and Buckhorn declared they had no further interest in meetings and discussions and were simply going to lobby the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to get the three votes for the Project Labor Agreement policy they wanted. Raw political power will be the deciding factor.

Project Labor Agreements are about politics, not logic. As I left the county administrative building, the three union officials were walking into the supervisors’ offices to take care of business and get what they wanted: a costly union monopoly on county construction projects.

Attention Embattled Sonoma County Taxpayers: prepare for the vote about how YOUR money will be spent. Here are the email addresses of the five elected members of the Board of Supervisors:

Supervisor Valerie Brown – Valerie.Brown@sonoma-county.org
Supervisor David Rabbitt – David.Rabbitt@sonoma-county.org
Supervisor Shirley Zane – Shirlee.Zane@sonoma-county.org
Supervisor Mike McGuire – MikeMcguire@sonoma-county.org (notice, no period between first and last name)
Supervisor Efren Carrillo – Efren.Carrillo@sonoma-county.org