Dueling Campaign Mailers for Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors Election: Positions on Project Labor Agreements Distinguish the Two Candidates

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In the San Francisco Bay Area, two candidates are running in a highly competitive race for the 2nd District open seat on the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. Candace Andersen – the mayor of the Town of Danville – is running against Tomi Van De Brooke – a member of the Governing Board of the Contra Costa Community College District.

In most contested races for Contra Costa County board supervisor, labor issues present a clear distinction between the two candidates. This race is no exception.

The two politically experienced female candidates are similar enough in views related to important county issues that unions have strategically decided to make abortion a key issue in their mailers. (See Wedge Social Issues Take Center Stage in Contra Costa Supervisor Campaign – Contra Costa Times – May 31, 2012.) In this very affluent Bay Area district, voters are relatively liberal on social issues, but union positions are unpopular.

Yet construction labor issues may be what establishes the most significant policy distinction between the two candidates.

Andersen, a Republican, opposes the county’s policy (enacted in 2002 but not implemented, and then re-enacted in 2003) of requiring construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with unions for taxpayer-funded construction projects worth $1 million or more.

Tomi Van De Brooke was once a Republican and also worked from 2007 to 2011 as chief of staff for Republican Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho, but realized – like so many other local politicians in the Bay Area – that a candidate usually needs the support structure of the dominant Democrat Party machine and the local labor unions to successfully pursue political ambition. In addition, she worked from 2004 to 2007 as the Bay Area Government Affairs Director for the California Alliance for Jobs, a labor-management cooperation committee.

As a Democrat, she voted on December 14, 2011 to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions to work on projects of $2 million or more funded by Measure A at the Contra Costa County Community College District. That locked up support from the Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council and earned the enmity of the Golden Gate Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC).

Here’s what the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California reported about that vote:

December 15, 2011 – Despite a concerted and prolonged attack of falsehoods from ABC and other extreme right groups, the Contra Costa Community College District approved a five-year agreement with the Contra Costa Building Trades Council this week for all construction projects valued above $2 million for the next five years. The vote came after months of delays brought on by ABC challenges to board members’ voting eligibility.

Contra Costa BTC Executive Officer Greg Feere commended board members John Marquez, Sheila Grilli, and Tomi Van de Brooke for refusing to fold under the ABC attacks…

This vote created a clear difference between the two candidates. Here’s a candidate comparison mailer from Associated Builders and Contractors:

Andersen Versus Van de Brooke – PLAs are Bad

Here’s the countering candidate comparison mailer from unions:

Andersen Versus Van De Brooke – PLAs are Good

The county’s PLA policy had been approved (and reapproved) 4-1, with Republican supervisor Gayle Uilkema (from the 2nd District) opposing it. After Republican Mary Nejedly Piepho defeated Democrat Millie Greenberg (appointed by Governor Gray Davis) for the 3rd District seat in 2004, union officials were worried that a third supervisor would be elected who would provide a 3-2 majority on the board to repeal the PLA policy or increase the project cost threshold from $1 million to $20 million. During the next three elections, unions managed to fend off repeated efforts to elect fiscally conservative candidates to two other seats (in the 4th and 5th Districts).

Now, redistricting has occurred. Supervisor Piepho is running unopposed in the 3rd District, and Supervisor Uilkema died on May 19, 2012. (She was planning to retire from the 2nd District seat she held since 1996, and Andersen and Van De Brooke had been running to replace her.) Unions will continue to push hard to keep their Project Labor Agreement trophy in Contra Costa County, and the June 5 election for the 2nd District Board of Supervisors seat is key in their strategy.

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