The Plot Develops to Require Contractors to Sign a Project Labor Agreement with Unions to Build California’s High Speed Rail

Print Friendly

UPDATE: News Coverage of the Project Labor Agreement for California High-Speed Rail

‘Needy’ Workers Will Get Jobs on High-Speed Rail – Fresno Bee – December 7, 2012 (reveals that all five prequalified bidders for the first segment of the California High-Speed Rail project have signed a Project Labor Agreement with unions)

High-Speed Rail in Bed with Unionswww.CalWatchdog.com – December 7, 2012 (provides a thorough background on union officials seeking a monopoly on construction of the California High-Speed Rail project and cites the Dayton Public Policy Institute as a source)


The agenda for today’s (December 6, 2012) meeting of the California High Speed Rail Authority included an item to approve a policy concerning “enhanced community benefits” for construction of the high speed rail system. Construction industry observers believe the High Speed Rail Authority will use this policy as justification for contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions for construction of the rail system (including related structures such as stations).

The policy, approved unanimously by the board this morning, is here: California High Speed Rail Authority – Community Benefits Policy for Construction – December 6, 2012. The approved resolution to approve the policy is here: California High Speed Rail Authority – Community Benefits Policy for Construction – Resolution – December 6, 2012.

This “community benefits” policy seems innocuous on the surface. It is supposed to enhance employment opportunities for economically disadvantaged and low-income workers, veterans, youth, unemployed, homeless, single parents, people with criminal records, etc. and “ensure that California benefits as much as possible,” according to staff. During discussion of this policy at today’s meeting, staff emphasized that it would help with the hiring of veterans and the adoption of pre-apprenticeship programs. (These are customary union talking points in support of Project Labor Agreements).

Staff also reported at the meeting that the policy would be implemented in various ways with “different stakeholders.” I’ve long predicted that the politically powerful stakeholder known as the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California would use a scheme like this to get a monopoly on High Speed Rail construction through a Project Labor Agreement.

The High Speed Rail Authority will be awarding construction contracts using a “design-build” bidding procedure, which means it can use somewhat subjective criteria, in addition to price, as the basis for selecting its construction contractors. This approach to implementing a Project Labor Agreement will allow the board and union officials to avoid controversial and high-profile votes for the High Speed Rail Authority to negotiate and implement a Project Labor Agreement directly with union officials. In addition, the public will remain generally unaware of the Project Labor Agreement, because reporters will have difficulty researching and explaining this complicated procedure.

The High Speed Rail Authority will also avoid accountability for the Project Labor Agreement. It can portray the agreement as a private and voluntary business decision that originates internally with the design-build contractor. There are recent precedents for this approach on large government projects in California.

As I reported last month, Clark Construction has signed Project Labor Agreements for the San Diego Convention Center Expansion Phase III and the new Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse in Long Beach. The City of San Diego and the California Administrative Office of the Courts even claim that the Project Labor Agreements are not a matter of public record, and Clark Construction declines to provide them to the public.

Staff told the board that prospective contractors will indicate in their bids how they will fulfill the policy. There will be a monitoring program handled through the High Speed Rail Authority’s auditing committee, and contractors will be penalized for failing to comply.

Marvin Dean calls for fairness and opportunities for all at California High Speed Rail Authority Board Meeting - December 6, 2012.

Marvin Dean calls for fairness and opportunities for all at California High Speed Rail Authority Board Meeting – December 6, 2012.

Eric Christen of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction spoke at the meeting today during public comment against a Project Labor Agreement, along with Nicole Goehring of the Northern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors and Richard Markuson, representing the Western Electrical Contractors Association (WECA), the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association of California (PHCC), and the Air Conditioning Trade Association (ACTA). In addition, Marvin Dean of the Kern Minority Contractors Association spoke during public comment and asked that both union and non-union contractors have the opportunity to work on the High Speed Rail.

Chairman Dan Richard (a former board member of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District – BART) concluded discussion of the proposed policy by remarking on the public comments against a Project Labor Agreement. Richard declared that while no decision has been made about how this policy will be implemented, he attended a meeting yesterday with the minority community, which expressed very strongly that a Project Labor Agreement was the way to achieve the policy objectives. He also claimed that Project Labor Agreements are effective in improving the efficiency of project delivery, reducing the number of conflicts, and providing a way for minority contractors to get work.

Mr. Richard also took a moment after public comment to recognize two important people in the audience: Bob Balgenorth, outgoing head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California and former High Speed Rail Authority board member, and Robbie Hunter, the head of the Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council, who is the incoming head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California.

This Project Labor Agreement Scheme Has Long Been Expected…

See California’s Top Construction Union Officials Love the State’s $100 Billion High-Speed Rail Project, my January 12, 2011 blog post on www.TheTruthaboutPLAs.com that provides a history of union involvement with the High Speed Rail.

I’m not the only observer who sees what’s going on. Here’s the text of a notice sent this morning by the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction:

PLA ALERT!: CA High Speed Rail Authority to Vote on Union-Only Project Labor Agreement TODAY!

Today at 10:00am at City Hall in Sacramento, the California High Speed Rail Authority will be doing something we have warned about ever since this ill conceived, deceitfully presented plan to create a slower and more expensive way to travel verses flying was concocted: Have this 19th Century choo-choo train built with union-only labor by way of a Project Labor Agreement or “PLA”.  That should help keep this projects runaway costs down.

Because of CFEC’s pointed questioning of Authority staff and board members at previous meetings regarding a PLA, they have been forced to state there would’t be a PLA.  So what they have done now is give this PLA the euphemism “Community Benefit Agreement.”

You can watch the proceedings live by going here.

CFEC and others have been warning taxpayers, owners, and workers for years about the fact that the California High Speed Rail Authority is a prime target for a union-only Project Labor Agreement (PLA).

With Senate Bill 1029 having passed the State is set to spend $5.85 billion to acquire land and build the “initial operating segment” of the California High-Speed Rail. This month the California High-Speed Rail Authority is scheduled to award several contracts for this first segment through an alternative bidding procedure called design-build. Five entities that are conglomerates of major engineering and heavy construction infrastructure corporations have qualified to bid under this procedure with “a goal” to have 30 percent of the work go to small businesses.

Instead of awarding contracts to design the project and then awarding contracts to the lowest responsible bidder to build it, the California High-Speed Rail Authority is authorized to award contracts to qualified corporate entities that combine project design AND construction work.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority will select the design-build entities using a somewhat subjective list of “best value criteria” that could result in design-build entities winning contracts without being the lowest price. The State Public Works Board, which will oversee the awarding of the project, and the California Department of Finance, will approve the criteria to award the design-build contract.

As required by SB 1029, by October 1, 2012, prior to awarding a contract to start construction of the first segment of the California High-Speed Rail, and prior to advertising additional contracts to be awarded in September 2013 and October 2013, the California High-Speed Rail Authority will provide a comprehensive staff management report that includes a list of “proposed steps and procedures that will be employed to ensure adequate oversight and management of contractors involved in the construction contracts funded in this act.” The California High-Speed Rail Authority will also need to submit a report with the same content requirements before additional contracts are awarded in March 2017.

With the eight-member Board of Directors of the California High-Speed Rail Authority including or having included union bosses like Bob Balgenorth, recent head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, this was pretty easy to see coming.  But we will continue to expose it to California taxpayers and fight it.

At today’s meeting CFEC’s Eric Christen, among others, will be asking tough questions about the CBA. The meeting will be held at 10:00am at Sacramento City Hall located at 915 I Street in downtown Sacramento.

Contact Eric Christen at (858) 431-6337 for more information.

News Media Coverage:

Approved Policy Targets Disadvantaged People for High-Speed Rail Jobs – Fresno Bee – December 6, 2012

4 comments

  1. [...] The Plot Develops to Require Contractors to Sign a Project Labor Agreement with Unions to Build Cali… – Dayton Public Policy Institute blog – December 6, 2012 [...]

  2. [...] The Plot Develops to Require Contractors to Sign a Project Labor Agreement with Unions to Build Cali… – Dayton Public Policy Institute blog – December 6, 2012 [...]

  3. [...] “Construction industry observers believe the High Speed Rail Authority will use this policy as justification for contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions for construction of the rail system, including related structures such as stations,” said Kevin Dayton, a Project Labor Agreement expert, formerly with the ABC, and now with the Dayton Public Policy Institute. [...]

  4. [...] with the Community Benefits Agreement resolution approved at the December 6, 2012 meeting of the California H…, the Project Labor Agreement is disguised under the term “Community Benefits [...]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>