2004 Revisited in 2013: Hartnell Community College District in Salinas Once Again Considers a Requirement for Contractors to Sign a Union Project Labor Agreement

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UPDATE (July 2, 2013): The Hartnell Community College District Board of Trustees met on July 2 to revisit its decision to implement a Project Labor Agreement for the school’s $28.5 million science building. Back in May, the Board approved an RFQ/P for a lease-leaseback construction services proposal contingent on negotiating a Project Labor Agreement with the Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties Building and Construction Trades Council. They also voted to appoint three board members to a Project Labor Agreement ad hoc negotiation committee.

The May resolutions were reversed in a 4-3 vote to use the traditional design-bid-build construction contracting method. Trustee Elia Gonzalez-Castro spearheaded getting the topic back on the agenda for reconsideration and made the motion to rescind the Project Labor Agreement. She argued that everyone should have access to the project just as all students have access to Hartnell College.

The Salinas Chamber of Commerce and local contractors collectively voiced their concerns – to fellow community members, the media and elected officials. The Chamber spotlighted the May vote along with their deep disappointment in the Board’s decision in their June/July Business Journal. And they illustrated the decision’s impact on the local economy.

Please email Elia Gonzalez-Castro at elia4hartnell@gmail.com and thank her for reversing her vote and supporting fair and open competition.

News Coverage:

Hartnell Changes Construction Contract Process – Salinas Californian – July 3, 2013 – “The board voted, 4-3, to rescind each of two earlier decisions to use a lease-lease back contract method for getting the building built and implementing a Project Labor Agreement in the process.”

Hartnell College Sides with Unions, Could Face Fight in Construction NegotiationsMonterey County Weekly – May 16, 2013

The Hartnell Community College District Board of Trustees in Salinas discusses the imposition of a government-mandated Project Labor Agreement with unions at its March 19, 2013 meeting.

The Hartnell Community College District Board of Trustees in Salinas discusses the imposition of a government-mandated Project Labor Agreement with unions at its March 19, 2013 meeting.

UPDATE (March 20, 2013): At their March 19, 2013 meeting, the Hartnell Community College District board of trustees was sharply-divided on the proposal to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions to work on the new science building. After public comments from union officials in support and contractors and contractor representatives in opposition, the board deliberated but took no action. The next meeting is scheduled for April 2, 2013.

News Coverage:

Conflict Surfaces Over Hartnell Project – Salinas Californian – March 19, 2013

Hartnell President Willard Lewallen acknowledged Tuesday that “this seems to be a very polarized issue”…Conflicts arose in the past over Hartnell’s use of PLAs on other publicly funded projects, such as the school library and parking garage, both of which were completed in 2006. (See below for a detailed history.)

The March 19, 2013 agenda for the board of the Hartnell Community College District in Salinas includes the following item:

The board will receive a presentation on project labor agreements and give direction to the administration.

Here’s a report from a local political activist:

Hartnell is getting ready to build a new science building. The Unions have presented (quietly and sneakily) a proposal that the board adopt a Project Labor Agreement for this project. Some (not sure if it is four or not = majority) of the board members are automatically in favor of this proposal. This is about a $25 million dollar project. The board is taking this up on Tuesday at 5:00 at the Hartnell CALL building location. This will be a workshop style presentation…

This is the second time that Hartnell Community College District has been entangled in a Project Labor Agreement. In 2004, the construction-manager-at-risk for the college’s Measure H construction program negotiated a Project Labor Agreement with union leaders WITHOUT the consent or even the knowledge of the board of trustees and some college administrators.

Associated Builders and Contractors of California and other groups called for the Project Labor Agreement to be considered in a public forum so taxpayers, businesses, and students could express their viewpoints and so that representatives of the people (the board of trustees) could vote on it. In the end, the Project Labor Agreement was rescinded by the elected board.

Detailed History of the Implementation and Rescinding of a Project Labor Agreement at Hartnell Community College District in 2004

On November 5, 2002, 65.7% of Monterey County voters approved Measure H, which authorized Hartnell Community College District in Salinas to borrow $131 million for campus expansion by selling bonds to investors.

At the August 17, 2004 meeting in Stockton for the board of trustees of the San Joaquin-Delta Community College District, a union official claimed that Hartnell Community College District was requiring its contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement to work on projects funded by its bond measure. Another speaker announced that the Project Labor Agreement was negotiated between the San Francisco-based construction manager DPR and the unions. He claimed he was at the college board meeting when the Project Labor Agreement was approved.

I did not know about this, so I obtained (via fax) the minutes of the college board meetings from May 4, June 1, June 29, July 13, and August 3. There was no indication that the board approved a Project Labor Agreement as an independent action item. I made two phone inquiries on two consecutive work days with DPR’s project executive for the construction program funded by Measure H. I also left a message for the college’s Vice President of Administrative Services, who was overseeing construction. The phone calls weren’t returned.

Officials at the Salinas Valley Builders Exchange (now part of the Central Coast Builders Association) also became suspicious, because DPR never provided the organization with plans and specifications for the parking garage and learning resource center. Not surprisingly, college board members were expressing concern at their meetings that not enough local companies were getting work. Low bidders listed for the parking garage and learning resource center were mainly big union companies that work throughout the Bay Area.

On August 27, 2004, representatives of the Salinas Valley Builders Exchange and the Golden Gate Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (now the Northern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors) attended a monthly meeting on Measure H construction. They surprised college officials there by asking some tough questions: Is there a Project Labor Agreement? When did the board of trustees vote on the Project Labor Agreement? Can you provide a copy of the pre-qualification questionnaire, bid specifications, and wrap up insurance program? What are you doing to encourage local contractors to bid on these projects?

One official at the meeting said the college were considering a Project Labor Agreement, but another admitted the college already had a Project Labor Agreement in place. Business organizations began alerting their members to what was apparently happening. Meanwhile, I submitted a public records request to the president of the college to get the truth.

On August 30, 2004, I received a call from a representative of the San Francisco-based project manager TMI (Townsend Management, Inc.) who told me that DPR was indeed negotiating a Project Labor Agreement with unions for Phase I of the Measure H construction, which consisted of the parking garage and the learning resource center. Two unions were holding out: the Painters and the Plasterers, and the Project Labor Agreement would not in effect until those unions signed on. He claimed that bid specifications indicated that contractors would have to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the unions. He said that an official at Hartnell Community College told DPR it was acceptable to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement with unions. He did not know which official authorized it, nor if the board of trustees was ever informed about it. Finally, he told me I would need to get a copy of the bid specifications, the pre-qualification questionnaire, and the Project Labor Agreement directly from DPR. However, he faxed a copy of the list of local contractors DPR claimed to contact about bidding.

Eric Christen of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction became involved and reported this: “[The TMI representative] is very nervous and tried to tell me that I needed to contact the college to get the list of contractors who were supposedly contacted. I told him that it was his job and he said he would call me back.”

Contractors began emailing this message to the district’s board of trustees and top administrators:

I have learned that your construction manager DPR has negotiated a Project Labor Agreement with unions for Phase I of Measure H construction at Hartnell Community College. Many local contractors will not sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions for construction, which is perhaps one reason why most of the contractors that have won bids so far have come from the Bay Area.

When did the board of trustees approve this Project Labor Agreement? I’m sure you would have had a parade of local contractors and business leaders at your meeting to oppose the Project Labor Agreement if it was listed on your agenda as an action item. Who at the college authorized this Project Labor Agreement?

Also, I do not believe my company was ever contacted by DPR about bidding on Measure H projects. Is there a list available of local contractors contacted by DPR about working on this construction? What kind of contact did DPR have with the Salinas Valley Builders Exchange?

This is not a good way to start your Measure H construction program. I recommend you put an item on the September 7 agenda to investigate what happened with this Project Labor Agreement, why it is being used, and why so few local contractors are working on construction paid for with our tax dollars.

On August 31, 2004, I received a phone call from the president of Hartnell College. He told me there was a negotiated Project Labor Agreement between the DPR and the unions, the board of trustees did NOT vote to authorize it, and DPR was apparently authorized to negotiate the Project Labor Agreement by the college’s Vice President for Administrative Services. He scheduled a meeting on September 7 for him, the college vice president, TMI personnel, and DPR personnel to discuss the Project Labor Agreement and local bidding with a representative of the Salinas Valley Builders Exchange and myself. The college president also told me that he was sending a memo to the college board of trustees asking them to hold off on any action regarding these issues until after our meeting was held on September 7.

Additionally, a member of the board of trustees called me to report that the college president told him that he knew nothing about the Project Labor Agreement until I had sent him my public records request asking for it.

The meeting on September 7, 2004 was attended by three college administrators and several officials from DPR and the project management firm TMI. Besides myself, the meeting included representatives of Associated General Contractors (AGC) and Salinas Valley Builders Exchange.

An official with DPR launched the meeting by declaring that all unions had now signed the Project Labor Agreement, and it was in effect for remaining construction on three major building projects. I told them I was angry about how the college and its construction management firm held us off while scurrying to get all the unions signed onto the Project Labor Agreement. I then declared that the Project Labor Agreement had been implemented without approval from the elected board of trustees and that Associated Builders and Contractors would ask the trustees to revoke it.

In seven years with Associated Builders and Contractors in Northern California, I had fought more than 50 Project Labor Agreement proposals. This was the first time I had seen a Project Labor Agreement imposed on a public works project without the elected board voting on negotiations and the final document and without allowing the public to express their views on such a controversial proposal.

How seedy was this case? Associated Builders and Contractors exposed under-the-table negotiations, at which time the unions quickly signed the Project Labor Agreement for implementation without authorization from the elected board of trustees. When Associated Builders and Contractors and other business associations objected, unions and the college administration argued that the elected board did not need to approve the Project Labor Agreement. It was the right of the construction management firm to do it.

For the reminder of the day, I notified local contractors, local news media, and the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce about the Project Labor Agreement. A prominent local union contractor that had prequalified for the next Measure H project and had even obtained a contract with DPR pointed out that a Project Labor Agreement was NOT mentioned in the bid specifications. The company was concerned that the prequalification process would have to be redone once a Project Labor Agreement was in place.

On that evening of September 7, 2004, I spoke, along with a contractor and an Associated General Contractors representative, during public comment at the monthly board meeting against the Project Labor Agreement. I handed out a copy of the Project Labor Agreement to the trustees, thus proving to the board that the rumors were true.

The board of trustees at the time was Mark Dierolf (President), Aaron Johnson, John Martinez, Berna Maya, Brad Rice, Steve McShane, and Bill Freeman. The board president (a member of the Libertarian Party) contended that the board handled policy, not management, and therefore the Project Labor Agreement did not need authorization from the board. This was the same position now held by the college president.

DPR officials and union leaders defended the Project Labor Agreement, and they also brought two lawyers to argue that the trustees did not legally have to approve the Project Labor Agreement because the trustees had given all decision-making authority to the construction manager-at-risk.

The public became aware of what was going on. I talked about the Project Labor Agreement during a morning talk radio show on KION 1460 AM in Salinas for about 20 minutes on September 20, 2004, and the Salinas Californian published its first story about the Project Labor Agreement on September 23, 2004.

On October 5, 2004, the board of the Hartnell Community College District scheduled formal presentations for and against the Project Labor Agreement secretly negotiated between its construction manager-at-risk DPR and construction unions. A union attorney made a presentation in support and I made a presentation in opposition. Representatives of Associated General Contractors, the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce, and the Salinas Valley Builders Exchange urged the board to vote on the Project Labor Agreement and rescind it. The story was reported in the October 6, 2004 Salinas Californian.

On October 11, 2004, several opponents of the Project Labor Agreement attended the college’s bond oversight committee meeting with the goal of convincing the committee to take a position against it. The committee turned out to be a joke: the meeting did not have a quorum (reportedly bond oversight committee meetings for Hartnell College never had a quorum) and the committee did not fulfill the requirements for membership under the California Education Code. (An educational district cannot have a bond measure approved under the Proposition 39 voter threshold of 55% unless it follows certain laws regarding the oversight committee.)

Meanwhile, a vote was scheduled for the board’s October 15, 2004 meeting on a resolution: “Endorsement of the Concept for a Project Labor Agreement Contract by Its Construction Manager, DPR, for Construction of the Project Up to and Including the CALL Building.” But on the day before the meeting, the resolution was removed from the board agenda.

On October 15, 2004, I filed another public records request with Hartnell College to obtain a copy of the construction manager-at-risk contract between DPR and the college. It turned out that the DPR contract approved on May 1 by the board of trustees only applied to the learning resource center and the parking garage. It was unclear to me how the board of trustees could approve a Project Labor Agreement between DPR and the unions for the CALL Building when DPR did not even have the contract to be construction manager-at-risk for this project. In addition, the Project Labor Agreement provided to me by the college only covered the learning resource center and the parking garage.

More board discussion of the Project Labor Agreement occurred at the November 2, 2004 meeting.

After four straight board meetings where the Project Labor Agreement was addressed or on the agenda (including two specially scheduled meetings), the board of trustees finally considered a resolution at their November 29, 2004 meeting to endorse a Project Labor Agreement imposed by DPR for construction of projects up to and including the CALL Building. This resolution meant that the Project Labor Agreement would be required on five small remaining contracts totaling $3 million on the $65 million parking garage and library, and it would also apply to all contracts on the large CALL Building yet to be constructed.

On a 4-3 vote, the board of trustees bucked the unions and administration and amended the resolution to eliminate the Project Labor Agreement requirement for the CALL Building. Then they passed the amended resolution on a 6-1 vote. (The threat of contract delays caused by litigation from DPR or the unions was a factor in the final vote.) There was also direction from trustees to the administration that the elected board must approve future Project Labor Agreement proposals.

While there was regrettably a Project Labor Agreement on five small contracts totaling $3 million, opponents of the Project Labor Agreement stopped the under-the-table deal from applying to future projects. We also made an important statement that unions and construction-managers-at-risk will be made accountable to elected boards if they ignore democracy and secretly negotiate Project Labor Agreements on publicly-funded construction.

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