Unions Win Monopoly Control of Construction at Yet Another Community College in the San Francisco Bay Area: Contra Costa District Gets a Project Labor Agreement

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On October 10, 2012, leaders of the Contra Costa County Building and Construction Trades Council finally succeeded in getting the Contra Costa Community College District Governing Board to implement a Project Labor Agreement acceptable to union leaders for future district construction. The vote was 3-1.

This is perhaps the longest crusade ever in California for unions to win a government-mandated Project Labor Agreement. Union officials began targeting the district a dozen years ago, before voters authorized the sale of $120 million in bonds through the first Measure A in the March 2000 election. Voters narrowly authorized the sale of another $286.5 million in bonds by appoving a second Measure A in June 2006, but a tangle of circumstances preserved fair and open competition as the bidding policy of the district.

With the fall of this district to the unions, almost every community college district in the San Francisco Bay Area now requires construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions in order to work on a taxpayer-funded project in those districts. Below is a status report:

Community College District (CCD) Year as PLA Target Year of PLA Enacted
Peralta CCD (Alameda County) 2004 2004, 2009
Chabot-Las Positas CCD (Alameda County) 2003 2006, 2010
Ohlone CCD (Alameda County) 2002 Not Yet
Contra Costa CCD (Costa Costa County) 2000 2012
College of Marin (Marin County) 2005 2008
Hartnell CCD (Monterey County) 2004 2004; rescinded 2004
Monterey Peninsula College Not Yet Not Yet
Napa Valley College (Napa County) 2004 Not Yet
City College of San Francisco (San Francisco) 2002 2005
San Mateo CCD (San Mateo County) 2002 2002, 2007
Cabrillo College (Santa Cruz, San Benito, Monterey Counties) 2004 Not Yet
Foothill-DeAnza CCD (Santa Clara County) 2007 2008, 2011
San Jose-Evergreen CCD (Santa Clara County) 2006 2011
West Valley-Mission CCD (Santa Clara County) 2005, 2008 Not Yet
Solano CCD (Solano County) 2003 2004
Santa Rosa Junior College (Sonoma County) 2002, 2005 Not Yet

Note that governing boards of several community college districts in Southern California have also required their construction contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions. Why are community college districts such ripe targets for union control of taxpayer funded construction? Here are my theories:

  1. Most California voters aren’t even aware that community colleges have elected board members. There’s an obscure political vacuum to be filled by opportunistic unions and other special interests of the Left.
  2. Public accountability for board members is almost non-existent. News coverage is weak. Taxpayers are clueless, and students are too busy to focus on the elected leadership of their institution.
  3. Serving on a community college board attracts relatively erudite, ideological people who believe government and education can be useful and appropriate agents to change the world.
  4. For an ambitious politician dreaming of running for a solidly Democrat-controlled state legislative seat when the current occupant is termed out, it’s useful to show evidence of experience in education. Ambitious politicians, of course, also have to be active in enacting policies desired by the various interest groups that provide financial and organizational support in primary campaigns, including construction trade unions.
  5. People attracted to the community college board often respond to policy proposals based on emotion, feelings, and idealism – and not so much on financial analysis.
  6. The main campaign donors to community college board candidates are parties with financial interests in the district; that is, faculty unions and other unions. It’s difficult to find campaign funding for candidates who advocate fiscal responsibility.
  7. There are a lot of cultural disincentives for an advocate of minimalist government and fiscal responsibility to run for a community college board. These college districts are very political, and the political culture is very “progressive.” Boards like to pass resolutions about foreign affairs, global issues, and leftist bugaboos.

Are you an advocate of activist government in California and want to pursue a political career? Run for your community college district board of trustees. You’ll fit right in.

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