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