The union-affiliated Helmets to Hardhats program meant to give returning veterans an entry into the construction trades sounds like a worthy project. But it’s hard not to be cynical about its purpose in practice: to give politicians cover when voting to require contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions to work on taxpayer-funded construction.
Construction trade unions routinely claim that local governments can enhance the employment of military veterans by requiring their construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions that includes a Helmets to Hardhats provision. Is this claim valid? Do unions ever meet their contractual obligations under this provision?
On October 24, 2012, www.PublicCEO.com had the courage to expose the empty promises from construction union lobbyists about the unions’ Helmets to Hardhats program in the context of Project Labor Agreements. See Lodi Energy Center Helmets-To-Hardhats Program Falls Flat.
The web site of www.PublicCEO.com states that it “seeks to provide the tools for local government employees to succeed – including information on the best practices around the state and inventive governance procedures and trends.” Helmets to Hardhats is clearly NOT a best practice justifying a Project Labor Agreement.
Cited by www.PublicCEO.com was the performance of the Helmets to Hardhats program associated with the Project Labor Agreement signed by the Northern California Power Agency (a conglomerate of publicly-owned utilities) for construction of the Lodi Energy Center. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
Included in the project labor agreement adopted at the outset of the project was a helmets-to-hardhats program. As outlined in section 15.1 of the project labor agreement, the Northern California Power Agency and its employers would use a center to recruit, evaluate, train, and employ veterans of the military to work on the project.
That provision and its results were omitted from announcements, press releases, and materials relating to the project. In a series of emails reviewed by PublicCEO, those in charge of the project were unable to verify a single helmet-to-hardhat hire.
It’s hard not to be cyncial when reading the documentation from the Northern California Power Agency showing their abandoned attempt to brag in a press release about the performance of the Helmets to Hardhats program on the Lodi Energy Center:
But sometimes the truth doesn’t matter. The City of Lodi continued to tout Helmets to Hardhats (with taxpayer funded publications mailed to utility customers!) as a success even after the Northern California Power Agency learned in 2011 that the program was a total failure:
I first saw Helmets to Hardhats in 2005 in a proposed Project Labor Agreement for a wastewater treatment plant at the San Diego County Water Authority. It was included in a revised Project Labor Agreement proposed (and ultimately implemented) in 2007 for Solano County and the Project Labor Agreement proposed (and ultimately implemented) in 2008 for the College of Marin. Now it is commonly referenced in Project Labor Agreements and routinely praised by union lobbyists and their political sycophants.
What is Helmets to Hardhats?
According to the “Frequently Asked Questions” of the web site for Helmets to Hardhats, the program is “dedicated to helping National Guard, Reserve, retired and transitioning active-duty military members connect to quality career and training opportunities in one of America’s most challenging and rewarding industries – the construction industry.”
The web site notes that Helmets to Hardhats is NOT a training program; in fact, it is vague about what Helmets to Hardhats actually does:
Most experienced job seekers understand that utilizing personal networks (networking) is a much more effective way of securing a quality career than simply looking online or going through newspaper ads. Although H2H is a Web-based program that requires online registration and provides career postings, what sets it apart from other initiatives is that H2H employees, and the dedicated volunteers that work with us, take an active role in connecting veterans to outstanding career and training opportunities. At the end of the day, having an informed advocate on your side who knows where you need to go, who you need to talk and can help facilitate the hiring process makes all the difference in the world to serious job seekers interested in securing a rewarding career in construction.
It also says the following:
H2H makes the connection between the career providers and the candidates that apply for their career opportunities. Some of the listings on the H2H Web site are for apprenticeship training opportunities and others are for careers with public and private employers.
Presumably staff of the Helmets to Hardhats program helps the on-line applicant get referred to the local union of a construction trade. That worker may be “indentured” into the applicable union apprenticeship program, pay initiation fees and some dues, and then begin classroom training while getting dispatched to job sites for on-the-job training.
Essentially, the program is a recruitment operation for construction trade unions, in which the initiative for employment rests with the individual seeking work.
Additionally, the web site indicates that the Center for Military Recruitment, Assessment and Veterans Employment (CMRAVE) administers the Helmets to Hardhats program. It is a “non-profit Section 501(c)(3) joint labor-management committee established under Section 302(c)(9) of the Labor Management Relations Act. Funding and support come from private foundations, employers, employer associations and unions.”
Here are the Form 990s submitted by the Center for Military Recruitment, Assessment and Veterans Employment to the IRS for 2008, 2009, and 2010:
Apparently this organization is getting significant government grants. In addition, Section 302(c)(9) of the Labor Management Relations Act allows employers and employer associations to make payments to a committee established under the Labor Management Cooperation Act of 1978. In other words, the operations of Helmets to Hardhats may also be funded in part through employer payments mandated in Master Labor Agreements (collective bargaining agreements) negotiated between an employer or group of employers and a union.
Here are links to primary source documentation about the Northern California Power Agency’s Project Labor Agreement for the Lodi Energy Center, featuring the failed Helmets to Hardhats provision:
2. Northern California Power Agency’s $90,000 Payoff to the California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperative Trust – Contract and Proof of Payment (For an idea of where this $90,000 went, see Where the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust Spends Its Money: Now We See How Unions Spread It.)
5. Why did union officials speak in support of the Project Labor Agreement at the November 2, 2009 meeting of the Northern California Power Agency commissioners? The Northern California Power Agency management staff told them to show up!