Response of Eric Christen of Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction to Sacramento Bee Article “Downtown Arena Deal Creates Unlikely Alliances”

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The Sunday, September 8 Sacramento Bee newspaper includes an article “Downtown Arena Deal Creates Unlikely Alliances” that makes this observation:

The prospect of a new arena at Sacramento’s Downtown Plaza has caused political foes to unite and groups with opposing philosophies to occupy common ground. Unions and business groups have joined in support of the project, while some left-leaning Democrats find themselves aligned with conservative anti-tax and anti-union interests.

The Dayton Public Policy Institute blog would obviously be labeled as part of “conservative anti-tax and anti-union interests.” But the label is simplistic and based on outdated political paradigms.

I would contend that these new alliances are simply a symptom of a fundamental political realignment going on in the United States and California, in which populist movements on the Left and Right are unifying against the establishment that holds up the structure of Crony Capitalism. The old Republican versus Democrat dichotomy is fading away.

But that is an issue I’ll address at another time (probably in For now, I provide below – without my editorial comments – an email from Eric Christen, executive director of the Coalition for Fair Employment, to the two Sacramento Bee reporters who wrote this article.

From: eric christen
Sent: Sunday, September 08, 2013 8:38 AM
To: Dale Kasler; Ryan Lillis
Cc: xxxx; xxxx; xxxx; xxxx; xxxx; Kevin Dayton; xxxx; xxxx; xxxx; xxxx; xxxx
Subject: Regarding Your Piece in Today’s Bee

Your article is pretty good and interesting on many levels but it really fails on three: First, because we fight for the right of all workers (85% of whom locally are union-free) to work on projects and thus oppose PLAs does not make us “anti-union.” That’s the third article that trope has now been used Dale and Ryan and it’s getting tendentious. I have union board members. Now a group that proposes PLAs as a way to discriminate against union-free workers, that group is in fact anti-merit shop and anti-competitive. Interesting how ones ideology allows certain groups to be framed using certain language while exempting others.

Secondly the Bee still has yet to fully connect the relationship between the PLA and union greenmail. Greenmail is where unions use CEQA to hold up projects until such time as the owner “agrees” to a PLA. Then all the union environmental concerns magically go away. This is implied by Mr. Thatch in the last part of the article but it is deserving of its own stand alone article. It is absurd that with Steinberg’s bill on the verge of being passed this week that exempts this project from CEQA delays that this paper has not written on this issue. I mean really?

Lastly, why would you allow two people (Thatch & Ken Jacobs, that latter nothing but a union mouthpiece working for a union “think tank”) to say something as silly as “this would be built union-only anyway” but not call us to get the other side? It is such a silly statement I’m embarrassed they actually said it. If it would be built union-only anyway then why the PLA that forces non-union workers to pay union dues and into union pensions? But even more obvious is the fact that right up the road the $1 BILLION airport project is being built with union and non-union labor and has no PLA. In other words projects of this magnitude (and larger) get built all over America and California without PLAs and with non-union labor. When PLAs are used, which is rare because they are an irrational business decision, their sole intent is to keep big non-union guys like Bergelectric, Rex Moore Electric, and Helix Electric from getting work. They are welfare for a few unions who simply can’t compete for a variety of reasons.

The parts of the article that deal with Mayor Johnson (I like him) and Mark Freidman (a real gentleman) are in fact interesting. I understand why they think they needed to make this deal with union bosses just as I’m sure they understand why I need to stand up for the rights of my people. What I don’t get at the end of the day is what leverage they thought the unions had on this project that would force them to agree to a deal that will only make this project more expensive. Would the unions seriously greenmail this project thus opening themselves up to untold derision and legislative action? Really? Was it just because Steinberg and his ilk said there had to be a PLA? This is the $64,000 question here, a question that cannot be answered seriously with “We needed the PLA to stop strikes and bring the project in on time.”

I hope the Bee will more fully cover the PLA itself and provide historical context as well as how CEAQ conflates with this whole issue. CEQA reform is needed because greenmail is symptomatic of the economic distortions that infect this state and make it an economic laughingstock. PLAs are another one of those distortions and, again, they are related.

As far as what we intend to do we will be holding a press conference soon that will make it very explicit. We view this issue as not just about an arena but about the railyards, the work around the arena, the new Sacramento courthouse, Delta Shores, etc. In other words we are looking big picture and realize that PLA proponents will stop at nothing to keep workers out of a job simply because they don’t belong to their group. That bigotry will be fought by CFEC vigorously and in a non-linear manner.

Remember, we aren’t the bad guys here. We are reacting to actions being taken against us. If the shoe were on the other foot and unions were somehow being targeted those targeting them would not be safe in their homes or places of business, and everyone damn well knows it.

We are different. We just show up at your event and borrow your microphone for a minute or two.


The Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction web site is

The “Steinberg bill” giving a CEQA break to the Kings arena project is Senate Bill 743.

Ken Jacobs is affiliated with the University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Program.

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