Tag Archive for Associated Builders and Contractors – Golden Gate Chapter

Morning View Studios in Dixon: A Union Project Labor Agreement on an Imaginary Project?

Northern California was stunned last weekend when the Sacramento Bee published an extensive investigative report about the developer of Morning View Studios, a proposed $2.8 billion film studio planned for 300 acres, or maybe even 548 acres, in and near the City of Dixon, in Solano County, west of Sacramento. Reading the June 2, 2013 report (Hollywood Coming to Dixon? Executive’s Financial Troubles Raise Questions) is a painful experience if you empathize with the people who were apparently lured or duped into a scheme that was too good to be true.

The report and related news articles have inspired numerous reader comments referring to the plot of the musical The Music Man or to TV shows in which con artists routinely swoop into small towns to try to victimize the local citizenry. One June 2 armchair psychiatrist, going by the moniker WALLYSMOM, suggested the article evoked “a picture perfect example of someone with Histrionic Personality Disorder with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” (Refer to the DSM for more details.)

I’ve been watching this project because it has been aggressively promoted by officials with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Union Local No. 180, which has jurisdiction in Solano and Napa Counties. Supposedly there was a Project Labor Agreement for the construction of Morning View Studios. (Who negotiated and signed it?)

This is not the first time the IBEW Local 180 has been caught in a large proposed project in Dixon that collapsed in the end. In November 2004, Mike Smith (Michael C. Smith), a business development official with the IBEW Local 180, was elected to the Dixon City Council. During his one term in office, a now-bankrupt Canadian company called Magna Entertainment Corporation proposed a horse racetrack with associated hotel and retail development in Dixon. Unions supported the development after the company committed to sign a Project Labor Agreement for the $250 million Dixon Downs development, and the city council approved the project 4-1. Dixon residents qualified a ballot referendum to stop the project, and in April 2007, 53% of the 5,340 voters overturned the city council votes and ended the dream.

See below for the two educational mailers sent from the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction and what is now the Northern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) to the residents of Dixon informing them about the Project Labor Agreement for Dixon Downs and encouraging them to start asking questions about the behind-the-scenes deal. A press release explains the mailers.

In the early 2010s, a woman claiming to represent big-money entertainment interests proposed building a film studio in Dixon, without need of public subsidies. The economic opportunities for this project obviously got local people very excited, including IBEW Local 180 officials. A major unionized California general contractor, Rudolph & Sletten, became involved as the chosen construction company for the massive project. At the heart of this effort was the aspiration of the IBEW Local 180 leadership that the union would get guaranteed construction work with a Project Labor Agreement and studio work with a Master Labor Agreement.

Here’s the union angle as Morning View Studios moved forward, with key points highlighted in red:

1. IBEW Local 180 Newsletter September-October 2012

Dan Broadwater, Business Manager: I have been working with Morning View Studios for over two years now to bring a facility to our jurisdiction…One of the concerns is the additional cost of a City Planner to process the documentation and follow through the entitlement process. Through our Market Recovery program and the buy in from our Nor Cal NECA partnership, we will assist the City of Dixon in funding the cost of a Planner with a wage and benefit package to get this done. This along with contributions from our Building Trades affiliates to assist with this cost will pay dividends for years to come on not only the new construction but the set work that will be on going at the studios.

It appears a Labor-Management Cooperation Committee was going to reimburse the City of Dixon for the staff costs of preparing this project. These union-affiliated committees are obscure; go to www.LaborManagementCooperationAct.com for an explanation. “Nor Cal NECA” refers to the Northern California Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, a trade association for unionized electrical contractors.

I submitted a public records request about this to the City of Dixon in September 2012 and received a response in February 2013 stating there weren’t any records concerning such a transaction.

2. IBEW Local 180 Newsletter November-December 2012

Morning View Studios in Dixon

Things were moving along great before this Measure N hit Morning View. Deals were struck with the landowners that covered 800 acres of land. The City provided a letter to fast track and streamline the process. Financing is in place, the PLA is done and we are ready to move forward. We were helping Morning View through the approval process so things did not get “hung up”. Then bam, we hit the wall and need your help like never before. This project is currently at a stand still due to Measure N. Measure N kills business and thus jobs; that is an understatement….

Our role currently is to support the No on Measure N campaign and we desperately need members’ support. We were asked to help walk precincts in Dixon, only two brothers helped. Folks, Morning View has signed a PLA to build AND operate this studio with 100% UNION people. We are talking about 1000 construction jobs short-term (2 years) and 300 full-time long-term jobs. Can we get you to help a brother out?

If we do not step up and show human support and kill Measure N, we lose big. Not only the project, but the fact our word of “support” is worthless. It pains me to be that direct but the Local’s reputation is on the line…

January 24, 2013 Morning View Film Studio Update – Mike Smith’s Blog – Dixon California Patch

Comment posted by Mike Smith in response to a critical comment about his blog post:

Both people with and without union membership will have an opportunity to work on the construction of the project. Many private businesses will be supportive vendors to the studio. But to work for the studio – you have to be union – that is what Morning View requires. We have had nonmembers working on PLA’s in the past – membership is not a requirement to get a job through the IBEW and many other unions. Building green requires sourcing materials and labor as close to a project as possible. To assure this, you use specifications for materials and a PLA for labor. A new blog on who will use the studio is coming soon. Mike Smith

The June 2, 2013 Sacramento Bee article exposing the background of the studio developer noted the heavy involvement of the IBEW Local 180:

Among the project’s most ardent supporters in Solano County have been officials with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. On local websites, and at public meetings, union leaders have extolled the virtues of the project and urged public support.

Robert W. Naylor, Carpenter’s Morning View attorney and a former state legislator, recently told The Bee that the IBEW is “prepared to make a major investment of their pension fund” into the movie studio project.

Dan Broadwater, business manager of IBEW Local 180, referred calls to Naylor.

Did the IBEW or NECA-IBEW invest anything in the end? Was there really a Project Labor Agreement? Will everything end up OK, as it did in The Music Man?

Mailers Informing the Residents of the City of Dixon about the Project Labor Agreement on the Proposed Dixon Downs Development of Magna Entertainment Corporation

Read the press release explaining the 2007 Dixon Downs Project Labor Agreement mailers.

Dixon Downs Project Labor Agreement Mailer #1 2007 Front

Dixon Downs Project Labor Agreement Mailer #1 2007 Back

Dixon Downs Project Labor Agreement Mailer #2 2007 Front

Dixon Downs Project Labor Agreement Mailer #2 2007 Back

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

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.

The Case Against the Davis-Bacon Act: 54 Reasons for Repeal – Book Forum for This New Publication

Tomorrow (Wednesday, October 17, 2012) at noon Eastern time (9:00 a.m. Pacific time), the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. will hold a forum on the new book The Case Against the Davis-Bacon Act: 54 Reasons for Repeal.

The Case Against the Davis-Bacon Act: 54 Reasons for Repeal

The Case Against the Davis-Bacon Act: 54 Reasons for Repeal

Here’s the Cato Institute’s description of the book forum:

Featuring the author Armand Thieblot, Olin Institute, George Mason University; with comments by Maurice Baskin, Partner, Venable, LLP, and co-author of Construction Union Tactics to Regain Jobs and Public Policy; moderated by James A. Dorn, Editor, Cato Journal, and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Cato Institute.

Advance copies of the book will be exclusively available at the forum. Online registration for this event is now closed. If you are interested in registering for the event please email events@cato.org. If you can’t make it to the Cato Institute, watch this event live online at www.cato.org/live and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #CatoEvents. Also follow @CatoEvents on Twitter to get future event updates, live streams, and videos from the Cato Institute.

The Davis-Bacon Act, the law that sets wages typically at or near the union rate for workers on billions of dollars worth of public works annually, has afflicted the construction industry for eight full decades. Obsolete and impossible to administer fairly when first passed in 1931, it has not improved since. It has been actively sustained through biased participation by the Department of Labor for the exclusive benefit of organized labor. If not repealed, Davis-Bacon will add billions of dollars of unnecessary costs to public works built over the next decade. Armand Thieblot, a longtime student of the act, documents some major reasons—in addition to cost savings—to repeal it, and shows why actions short of repeal will not be effective. Repeal of Davis-Bacon early in the coming administration will provide major stimulus to a construction industry that desperately needs the help.

When I began working for Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) in January 1995 as the Manager of State Affairs, one of my first duties was the promotion and distribution of Dr. Armand Thieblot’s 1995 report State Prevailing Wage Laws: An Assessment at the Start of 1995. As the general counsel for Associated Builders and Contractors, Maury Baskin provided me with advice and guidance during my more than 17 years in government affairs management positions for ABC National, ABC of California, and the ABC Golden Gate Chapter (now known as the ABC Northern California Chapter).

Contra Costa Times Recognizes Fiscally Responsible Candidates for Brentwood City Council: Endorsements EXCLUDE Project Labor Agreement Supporters

The Contra Costa Times newspaper endorsed Bob Brockman, Erick Stonebarger, and Steve Barr for election to the Brentwood City Council in November 2012. See Barr, Brockman, and Stonebarger in Brentwood – Contra Costa Times (editorial) – September 25, 2012.

It did NOT endorse Mayor Bob Taylor or former councilman Chris Becnel.

The Times based its endorsements on candidates’ responses to the city’s $52 million in unfunded pension and health insurance liabilities for city employee benefit programs. Obviously, this is an issue of taxpayers versus unions; the Times sided with the perspective of Brentwood taxpayers.

If the Contra Costa Times had based its endorsements solely on the issue of requiring city contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions, the results would have been the same!

Bob Brockman and Eric Stonebarger sided with taxpayers and fair and open competition. They opposed requiring contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions.

Bob Taylor and Chris Becnel sided with the unions of the Contra Costa County Building and Construction Trades Council. They supported requiring contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions. Becnel was defeated for re-election in 2010 and wants to get back on the city council.

Steve Barr was not on the Brentwood City Council in 2009-2010. (His predecessor Brandon Richey voted for the government-mandated Project Labor Agreement, giving unions a 3-2 victory in winning a monopoly on construction of the civic center and parking garage.)

The behavior of the Brentwood City Council members during this fight over Project Labor Agreements is quite revealing for voters. To give city council members some accountability for their votes in 2009 and 2010, here’s a timeline of what happened, with the original links to newspaper articles (most have expired, regrettably).

March 2009 – Brentwood City Council Considers Requiring Contractors to Sign Project Labor Agreement with Unions to Build Civic Center

On March 24, 2009, the Brentwood City Council voted 4-1 to spend up to $20,000 to commission a study from the union-oriented labor relations consulting firm of Scarth-Lyons & Associates about the feasibility of a Project Labor Agreement to achieve certain goals in the construction of a new city government complex, consisting of new civic center buildings, a new city hall, a plaza, a parking garage, and a new community center. Read an article about the vote:

“Project Labor Agreement” Being Considered for Civic Center – Contra Costa Times – March 25, 2009 (link is expired – go to Contra Costa Times archives)

Scarth-Lyons & Associates always identifies a need for a Project Labor Agreement in its one-sided reports to Northern California local governments. Also complicit in the push for a Project Labor Agreement on the civic center was another usual suspect, the Swinerton construction management firm. These two companies occasionally work together to promote union Project Labor Agreements under the guise of objective analysis, and then they get contracts to negotiate and administer those Project Labor Agreements. In other words, the city hired outside contractors with the knowledge they would reach a predetermined conclusion to require construction contractors to sign a union agreement.

At the March 24, 2009 city council meeting, the head of the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce – an organization ostensibly meant to support small and medium-sized local businesses – inexplicably advocated FOR having the city government require contractors to sign the Project Labor Agreement with unions. Who fed them the union propaganda? What a failure of critical thinking!

April 2009 – Merit Shop Contractors and Unions Clash Over Project Labor Agreement for Brentwood Civic Center Complex

Merit Shop contractors and representatives of various construction trade organizations relentlessly shelled the Brentwood City Council and local community organizations with arguments against the proposed Project Labor Agreement for the city’s planned civic center – so much so that a city council member told a representative of Associated Builders and Contractors on May 4, 2009 that he was “sick of hearing about it.”

The Brentwood Press weekly newspaper reported on the Project Labor Agreement controversy on April 17, 2009: see Labor Issues Overtake Civic Center. Then, on May 1, the Brentwood Press published an opinion piece I wrote in opposition to the Project Labor Agreement: Union-Only Agreement Will Cost Taxpayers.

Several Merit Shop contractors and representatives of Associated Builders and Contractors attended the April 14, 2009 Brentwood City Council meeting to speak during public comment against the proposed Project Labor Agreement. The Contra Costa County Building and Construction Trades Council also showed up with a dozen people to speak during public comment in support of a Project Labor Agreement. As a result, an unexpected 45-minute verbal battle erupted at the council chamber between proponents and opponents of Project Labor Agreements.

A few days before the meeting, households throughout Brentwood had received mailers from the Golden Gate Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors and from the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction criticizing the Project Labor Agreement and urging citizens to contact their city council in opposition to the proposal.

A few days after the April 14, 2009 meeting, Associated Builders and Contractors received a letter from the union-oriented labor relations consulting firm of Scarth-Lyons & Associates asking two questions cleverly written to undermine opposition arguments. (On March 24, 2009, Scarth-Lyons & Associates had been commissioned by the city council for $20,000 to write a study in support of the Project Labor Agreement.) Instead of responding directly to Scarth-Lyons & Associates, Associated Builders and Contractors sent a letter to the city council and top city staff picking apart the questions and asking for council members’ advice on how to answer them. It also provided several charts for the city to ask Scarth-Lyons & Associates to fill out and provide in its report. The charts listed all of the Contra Costa County construction unions and provided blanks for Scarth-Lyons & Associates to fill in regarding vesting periods for pensions, waiting periods for health insurance, underfunding of union pensions and their endangered/critical status, and the amounts for initiation fees and monthly dues.

May 2009 – Brentwood City Council Approves Negotiations with Union Officials for Project Labor Agreement on Civic Center

On May 12, 2009, at a meeting attended by hundreds of people in the construction industry, the Brentwood City Council voted 3-2 to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement with construction unions for a civic center project. About 60 people spoke during public comment – about three-fourths of them were union representatives.

City council members expressed concern about the provisions routinely included in Project Labor Agreements that require non-union contractors to pay employee benefits into union trust funds instead of their own company benefit plans, thus forcing contractors to pay into two plans in order to maintain benefits for their permanent employees.

Associated Builders and Contractors submitted a letter to the mayor and city council asking to be part of the negotiations between two city council members and union representatives. In the meantime, a citizens’ group called Brentwood Taxpayers for Fiscal Responsibility organized to make the city council accountable for its call for fair language in the Project Labor Agreement.

As noted above, Associated Builders and Contractors and the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction had sent mailers to Brentwood residents in April 2009 urging them to contact the city council against the Project Labor Agreement. The Contra Costa County Building and Construction Trades Council countered by sending a mailer in support of the Project Labor Agreement.

Associated Builders and Contractors tried in vain to convince the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce to take a position in support of fair and open competition and against the Project Labor Agreement.

The union-oriented labor relations consulting firm of Scarth-Lyons & Associates completed its report for the city at a cost to taxpayers of $13,800 (based on billing as of May 12, 2009). As expected, this biased report was clearly written from the presumption that Project Labor Agreements are good public policy and that non-union workers are inferior to union workers because they compete with other applicants to get jobs instead of being dispatched through union referral systems. In a letter, Associated Builders and Contractors had formally asked the city council to evaluate numerous issues that ended up not being addressed in the report. Although some city council members noted that the report was inadequate, Scarth-Lyons ended up managing the Project Labor Agreement negotiations for an additional taxpayer-funded fee.

In response to my opinion piece in the May 1, 2009 Brentwood Press (Union-Only Agreement Will Cost Taxpayers), the head of the Contra Costa County Building and Construction Trades Council wrote an opinion piece (PLAs Boost Quality, Save Money) accusing me of “ignorance and bias.” I admitted to both accusations in my comments posted under his op-ed:

I’m the person being accused of “ignorance and bias” in this opinion piece.

I will admit my bias: I’m biased in favor of fiscal responsibility, effective scrutiny and management of essential government functions, fair and open bid competition, free enterprise, freedom of choice for workers in whether or not to be in a union and how to learn a trade, balanced budgets, low taxes, limited government, reasonable regulations, and the rule of law. I’m biased against coercion, collectivism, and government waste and corruption.

Perhaps I’m ignorant too, in thinking that local elected officials might actually place taxpayers and the majority of workers ahead of their personal ambitions and vanity when considering PLAs. It takes a strong set of principles to withstand the lures and threats of powerful union political machines and their sycophants. Nevertheless, ABC will continue to oppose this PLA proposal, and we look forward to making our final arguments before the city council votes on this PLA on May 12. In the meantime, I hope the citizens of Brentwood will contact their city council members about how their taxpayer money will be spent under this PLA, because your concerns matter most…

See media coverage here:

Talks to Begin on Civic Center PLA – Brentwood Press – May 14, 2009

Brentwood Moves Ahead on Local Labor Requirement for Civic Center – Contra Costa Times – May 13, 2009  (link is expired – go to Contra Costa Times archives)

June 2009 – Brentwood City Council Narrowly Approves Project Labor Agreement for Civic Center

At a special meeting on June 18, 2009, the Brentwood City Council was awash in applause from a large crowd of union activists when it voted 3-2 to approve a negotiated Project Labor Agreement for the Brentwood Civic Center project. Speaking against the Project Labor Agreement were 16 people, while 32 people (mainly affiliated with unions) spoke in favor of it.

Note that the city council in this relatively conservative suburban town consisted of four Republicans and one without a party affiliation, showing that party identification does not always indicate support for fair and open competition. In fact, the city council member most aggressively opposed to fair and open competition (see his quotation below) was Chris Becnel, an alternate member of the Contra Costa County Republican Central Committee. (He was forced out of that position because of his support for the Project Labor Agreement.)

Erick Stonebarger and Robert Brockman were the two votes against the Project Labor Agreement. In particular, Councilman Brockman was an exceptional speaker against the Project Labor Agreement. He actually took the time to read the Project Labor Agreement, and he accurately interpreted many of the egregious provisions at the meeting.

In a letter dated June 5, 2009, Mayor Robert Taylor declined to honor the request of Associated Builders and Contractors to the city council to participate in Project Labor Agreement negotiations. (The mayor voted for the Project Labor Agreement.) A group called Brentwood Citizens for Fiscal Accountability held an organizational meeting on June 8 to monitor the Project Labor Agreement negotiations, but it was unable to make a difference in such a short time period.

Prominent at the June 18, 2009 meeting in advocating for this Project Labor Agreement was the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a liberal political advocacy group for Latinos.  However, a Roman Catholic priest who administered an opening prayer for a Project Labor Agreement at the May 26 meeting was not present to call for God’s presence at this meeting.

Some of you in ABC may be wealthy enough not to think that, that $10,000 is not a significant number…it is a significant number…

Brentwood City Councilman Chris Becnel, trying to incite class resentment against contractors while talking about the $10,000 penalty for unions if they go on strike despite the no-strike promise in the Project Labor Agreement.

Media Coverage:

Brentwood Council Approves PLA for Civic Center – Brentwood Press – June 19, 2009

Brentwood Adopts Divisive Civic Center Agreement – Contra Costa Times – June 19, 2009  (link is expired – go to Contra Costa Times archives)

Pro-Union Pact Spurs GOP Reaction – Contra Costa Times – July 4, 2009  (link is expired – go to Contra Costa Times archives)

September 2009 – Bid Deadline for Brentwood Civic Center is also Day to Protest Councilman Becnel’s Vote for Government-Mandated Project Labor Agreement

The September 2, 2009 bid deadline for the Brentwood Civic Center resulted in eleven contractors bidding out of the 20 that pre-qualified. That day also featured a picket in front of Councilman Chris Becnel’s office by opponents of the Project Labor Agreement. Flyers were posted around town at businesses and public bulletin boards featuring Councilman Becnel’s picture and describing his vote. The Contra Costa Times newspaper reported on the protest:

Unperturbed by this week’s demonstration, Becnel said he thinks he has rankled the nonunion contingent by pointing out that in choosing not to bid on the project — because they don’t want to be bound by union rules — these businesses are denying their employees a chance to work.

Eric Christen, executive director of Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, said he and others are targeting Becnel because of insults like these.

“As if he knows what’s best for these workers! The arrogance is breathtaking,” Christen said.

Bids Lower Than Expected on Brentwood Project – Contra Costa Times – September 3, 2009  (link is expired – go to Contra Costa Times archives)

January 2010 – Enthralled with Unions, Majority on Brentwood City Council Expands Project Labor Agreement to Additional Construction

On January 26, 2010 the Brentwood City Council voted 3-1 over the objections of representatives of Associated Builders and Contractors to expand coverage of the Project Labor Agreement for the new Brentwood Civic Center to an adjacent parking garage. For additional insult to taxpayers, the city council approved an additional payment not to exceed $12,500 for the union-oriented consulting firm of Scarth-Lyons & Associates to change the wording of the Project Labor Agreement to include the parking garage and take on supposed additional administrative services. The city council has now approved an amount not to exceed $57,500 to Scarth-Lyons to administer the Project Labor Agreement. Councilman Bob Brockman voted against the resolution; Councilman Erick Stonebarger was absent.

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

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.

There, Fixed It: “Know Your ABC”

Today the Washington, D.C.-based Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO launched a new program trying to undermine the credibility of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). From 1995 through March 2012, I held various government affairs management positions with ABC, first at the national office in Washington, D.C., then with the Golden Gate Chapter in Northern California as the Vice President of Government Affairs, and then with ABC of California as its State Government Affairs Director. Now I’m gone from ABC and newly emerged as the President and CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, with its research project, the Dayton Public Policy Institute.

So I escaped the latest union blanket accusation of using the “dark arts.” Nevertheless, for old time’s sake, I’m correcting the important, ponderous prose of the introductory paragraphs on the new union web site “Know Your ABC” at http://www.knowyourabc.com:

During any number of dark periods in human history, the forces who set their designs upon absolute power and oppression subscribed to the theory that an endless stream of lies and distortions was central to achieving their aims. It was, and still is, known as propaganda, and its primary objective is to persuade people of what those seeking power and control think is right – regardless of the facts. To those seeking power, propaganda does not have to be popular, nor does is (sic) it have to be intellectually pleasing, because, according to the theory, it is not the goal of propaganda to discover intellectual truths.

In our modern system of political debate and discourse, those tenets have, unfortunately, been embraced and put into practice by various ideologues and extreme organizations. And nowhere are the dark arts of political propaganda being deployed with such outsized exactitude than inside the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, and their regional and local affiliates. The distortions, falsehoods and outright lies being consistently perpetrated by the ABC construction union political machine when it comes to issues such as prevailing wage laws and project labor agreements (PLAs), are prime examples of the ABC’s Big Labor’s aggressive and disciplined devotion to the propaganda playbook.

Some might consider this to be the most powerful manifesto written since the Port Huron Statement, although others might consider it ripe for parody. I never considered ABC to be a practitioner of the “dark arts.” Seventeen years ago ABC was known as The Mean Team, because “…it is tenacious and favors the take-no-prisoners approach to litigation and lobbying…it’s just another day at the office for the ABC’s pugnacious team.” But maybe things are different now in this dark period of human history.

Here’s the press release announcing the introduction of the “Know Your ABC” program, with its “special” report written by a faculty member of the soon-to-be campus-free National Labor College:

America’s Labor Leaders to Release Major Study on the Associated Builders and Contractors

California angle: Notice that “on the call and available for comment” is Bob Balgenorth of the “California State Building Trades Council.”

Why Have Construction Unions Funded 92 Percent of the Campaign of Placer County Supervisor Candidate Pam Tobin? The Dayton Public Policy Institute Knows!

People are confused in Placer County, California, which stretches from affluent northeastern Sacramento suburbs to North Lake Tahoe and has a population of 350,000.

Why have construction unions and their affiliates contributed $30,350 to a candidate (Pam Tobin) who is challenging an incumbent county supervisor, Kirk Uhler? Construction-related union entities have directly funded a whopping 92% of Tobin’s campaign! This is stunning!

Even a Teamsters union federally-registered PAC based in Washington, D.C. contributed $1500. Yes, the nation’s capital turns its eyes to the Board of Supervisors in Placer County, California.

The 4th district of the Placer County Board of Supervisors contains the wealthy Republican-leaning Sacramento suburbs of Granite Bay and Roseville. It’s not a friendly area for the union political agenda; in fact, many residents of this district might even be categorized by the head of the Sacramento-based Ironworkers Union Local No. 118 as the “septic sewage of affluence,” as he describes certain rich Americans in the Sacramento Labor Bulletin.

Incumbent Supervisor Kirk Uhler believes the public employee unions have targeted him. (See Challengers Emerging in Placer County Supervisor Races – Sacramento Bee – February 1, 2012 and Challenger Goes after Placer Supervisor for District 4 Seat – Sacramento Bee – April 27, 2012.) But Tobin has only received a $250 contribution from one purely public employee union to date. The Sacramento Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO made direct contributions and sent a rather tame independent expenditure mailer to voters, but keep in mind that organization encompasses building trades unions as well as public employee unions.

As far as I can tell, not one newspaper article or blog post has identified what I believe to be the true reason for this massive construction union expenditure, although there is plenty of speculation. Let the speculation end: I’ll reveal the scheme of the construction unions.

First, let’s confirm that Tobin’s campaign is almost entirely funded by construction unions. See this link for the complete record of union contributions to Pam Tobin: Tobin 92% Union. (I circled the union contributions in red.) Also, see my compilation (below) of union contributions to Pam Tobin, in chart form. These records are obtained from Pam Tobin’s three electronically filed campaign reports: December 31, 2011, March 17, 2012, and May 19, 2012.

Tobin’s campaign web site doesn’t betray the reason for her extensive construction union support. She claims to be running on rather mundane issues that have nothing to do with construction: see http://www.pamtobin4supervisor.com/issues.html. So what’s the answer?

Almost certainly the silent #1 issue in the race for Placer County Board of Supervisors, 4th District is Project Labor Agreements, also known as PLAs.

Through the California State Legislature, with the support of Governor Jerry Brown, and at local governments throughout the state, the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California is trying to nullify or repeal every charter provision, ordinance, and resolution that prohibits a government entity from requiring contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions as a condition of working on taxpayer-funded construction.

On a 3-2 vote on August 24, 2010, the Placer County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution adding a provision to its contracting policies that states “the County shall not require a contractor on a County public project to execute or otherwise become a party to a project labor agreement as a condition of bidding, negotiating, award, or performance of the public project.” The resolution cited three reasons to adopt the policy: “to promote competition in contracting, to reduce the risk of cost increases in public works projects in Placer County, and to protect the interests of the taxpayers of Placer County.”

Union representatives showed up in force to oppose the resolution, thus demonstrating to county taxpayers that the policy was relevant and needed. The executive director of the Roseville Chamber of Commerce spoke in support of the resolution as well as a representative of the Golden Gate Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. Approval was along party lines, with the three Republicans (Rocky Rockholm, Kirk Uhler, and Robert Weygandt) voting for guaranteed fair and open bid competition, while Democrat Jennifer Montgomery and Decline-to-State Jim Holmes voted against it. Since that time, Jack Duran defeated Rocky Rockholm, but apparently Supervisor Duran has no immediate interest in advancing the construction union agenda.

In the past several years, Placer County has been vexed by “greenmail,” in which construction unions hire a law firm to exploit the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and block the permitting of proposed developments. When the developers agree to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the construction unions, the environmental objections fade away and the project moves forward.

The voters need to know why construction unions are so interested in this particular race. An enterprising reporter – or Supervisor Uhler himself – needs to put candidate Pam Tobin on the spot and ask her if she committed during her union interviews or in her union candidate questionnaires to repeal the county resolution banning Project Labor Agreements.

Pam Tobin’s Union Contributions (Almost All from Construction Unions)

Union Amount Date
Plumbers and Pipefitters Local No. 447


Sacramento Central Labor Council AFL-CIO


VOICE – Identity in report is elusive, but Sacramento Bee reports it’s a union entity. A search of the California Secretary of State’s list of campaign contributors shows the only active and related entity with VOICE in its name is “Members’ Voice of the State Building And Construction Trades Council of California.”


California-Nevada Conference of Operating Engineers


Plumbers and Pipefitters Local No. 447


Laborers Local No. 185


DRIVE Committee (Teamsters federal PAC out of Washington, DC)


International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT)


Operating Engineers Local No. 3


International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local No. 340


Northern California Regional Council of Carpenters


Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 162


Cement Masons Local No. 400


American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local No. 146


Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local No. 3


Total from All Unions $30,600.00  
Total from Construction Unions $30,350.00
Total Raised by Pam Tobin for Her Campaign for Placer County Supervisor $32,875.60

Once again, why have construction unions funded 92% of Pam Tobin’s Campaign for Placer County Supervisor? They want to repeal the county’s Fair and Open Competition resolution and open the floodgates to Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) on taxpayer-funded county construction. Notice that Tobin refers to upcoming construction for the Middle Fork Project and a new water treatment plant in this article in the May 2012 union newspaper Sacramento Labor Bulletin: Pam Tobin Central Labor Council Endorsement. Project Labor Agreements appear to be the silent #1 issue in this campaign for Placer County Board of Supervisors.

Unions Once Deemed Project Labor Agreements to Be Appropriate for Massive Infrastructure Construction Projects; Now They Demand PLAs for Bathroom Renovations

There was a time not too long ago when construction union officials in California and nationwide argued that Project Labor Agreements were an appropriate “construction management tool” for large multi-year infrastructure projects that require contractors to coordinate large numbers of workers in many trades.

For example, the only Project Labor Agreement case to come before the California Supreme Court was Associated Builders And Contractors, Inc., Golden Gate Chapter v. San Francisco Airports Commission (San Mateo County Building And Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO, Real Party In Interest And Respondent). The San Francisco Airport Commission required contractors to sign a PLA for a ten-year, $2.4 billion expansion and renovation of the San Francisco International Airport.Photo of San Francisco International Airport taken by Kevin Dayton on July 1, 2012Here is how the court, in its August 16, 1999 decision against the Golden Gate Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, described Project Labor Agreements (referred to here as a PSA, or so-called Project Stabilization Agreement):

The PSA is an example of a type of prehire agreement designed for large and complex construction projects. It is designed to eliminate potential delays resulting from labor strife, to ensure a steady supply of skilled labor on the project, and to provide a contractually binding means of resolving worker grievances. Such agreements, also called project labor agreements, have long been used in large construction projects…

The immense size of projects once subjected to Project Labor Agreements is also revealed in the only Project Labor Agreement case to come before the U.S. Supreme Court. This case was Building & Construction Trades Council of the Metropolitan District v. Associated Builders & Contractors of Massachusetts/Rhode Island, Inc. (aka Boston Harbor), decided on March 8, 1993. Here is the description of the Boston Harbor project in this decision:

The cleanup project was expected to cost $6.1 billion over 10 years…In the spring of 1988, MWRA [Massachusetts Water Resources Authority] selected Kaiser Engineers, Inc., as its project manager. Kaiser was to be primarily in charge of managing and supervising construction activity. Kaiser also was to advise MWRA on the development of a labor relations policy that would maintain worksite harmony, labor-management peace, and overall stability throughout the duration of the project. To that end, Kaiser suggested to MWRA that Kaiser be permitted to negotiate an agreement with the Building and Construction Trades Council and affiliated organizations (BCTC) that would assure labor stability over the life of the project…MWRA accepted Kaiser’s suggestion, and Kaiser accordingly proceeded to negotiate the Boston Harbor Wastewater Treatment Facilities Project Labor Agreement.

And the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals weighed in with a decision on October 28, 1998 about the legality of a Project Labor Agreement imposed by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). Once again, notice the size of the projects and the rationale for the PLA:

MWD determined that it would construct the Eastside Reservoir Project, which will expand water storage capacity for the area it serves. The cost of that project will be in the neighborhood of two billion dollars. It will, obviously, require large numbers of companies and laborers to bring it to completion. MWD also decided to construct the Inland Feeder Project, which is a water distribution pipeline that will cost about one billion dollars. In an attempt to assure a good measure of labor harmony, MWD pursued the negotiation of the PLAs with a number of unions.

Times have changed. Now, watch a few excerpts from this video of the April 10, 2012 Duarte City Council meeting at 25:00 and at 32:05:

Duarte (California) City Council Meeting – April 10, 2012 – PLA Policy Discussion

Ron Miller of the Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council emphasizes that local governments should follow the lead of the Los Angeles Unified School District and require contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements for “$50,000-$60,000 toilet room remodels.” Then Ray Van der Nat, a lawyer for construction unions, brags that the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District imposed a PLA for specialty projects worth $25,000 or more and general projects worth $125,000 or more. He noted that the Los Angeles Unified School District also has a specialty project cost threshold of $25,000, so that projects are included such as “remodeling a bathroom.”

Somehow, the union targets for Project Labor Agreements have evolved from airports, reservoirs, and dams to dinky bathroom remodels meant to ensure government compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They’ve gone from the Hoover Dam to the too-low toilet bowl.

Unions can argue it would not be in the public interest if students were forced to relieve themselves behind the palm trees in the school’s central courtyard or smoke their cigarettes behind the gym because union-instigated work stoppages delayed a bathroom remodelling job. This is what could happen if a Project Labor Agreement was not in place to address labor strife, a dearth of skilled labor, worker grievances, union-versus-management disharmony, or worksite instability in the bathroom.

Obviously the traditional arguments for Project Labor Agreements have changed quite a bit since the decisive court cases of the 1990s.

Project Labor Agreements are justified by Section 8(e) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Consider that Section 1 of the NLRA states findings that the law was enacted to reduce “strikes and other forms of industrial strife or unrest” and to “eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce.”

Unimpeded bathroom remodels may eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of something, but is this really the intent of the National Labor Relations Act?

Perhaps it’s time to reopen the legal challenges to Project Labor Agreements now that they’re used for bathroom remodels and – as listed in Appendix B of the 2000 Orange County Project Labor Agreement – “Bird/Weed/Dust Control.”

If You Vote to Require Contractors to Sign a Project Labor Agreement, You Will Be Accountable to the People for That Vote

Here’s an independent expenditure mailer sent to voters by “Defending the Republic Political Action Committee (PAC)” criticizing the voting record of San Joaquin County Supervisor Leroy Ornellas. Ornellas is running in the Republican primary against Assemblyman Bill Berryhill for the 5th State Senate District. Notice the mailer indicates that Ornellas voted (on May 22, 2007) to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) as a condition of building the San Joaquin County New Administrative Building.

Mailer – Bill Berryhill against Leroy Ornellas 2012

As Supervisor, he was the pivotal vote for a $95 million tax-eating county construction project made more costly because it shut out local small businesses from competitive bidding. It was so bad that the Republican Party voted to condemn any GOP office holders who voted for similar sweetheart deals.

On May 22, 2007, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve a Project Labor Agreement as part of a resolution to award a design-build contract for building the new San Joaquin County Administration Building.  It was the first (and to this date, only) government-mandated PLA implemented in San Joaquin County. The PLA was slipped into the resolution quietly, without any public advance notice that an exclusive agreement with unions was in the works. Ornellas voted for it.

The county Project Labor Agreement subsequently received a lot of attention from the San Joaquin County business community and the news media. In response, the San Joaquin County Republican Central Committee passed a resolution and the San Joaquin County Republican Assembly passed a resolution in the summer of 2007 opposing the use of PLAs by local governments in San Joaquin County.

After some initial difficulty, the Golden Gate Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction (CFEC) were able to regularly obtain bidder information for work on the county’s New Administrative Building. The union promise of local contractors on this project was a complete bust, as ABC and CFEC dutifully informed county residents through opinion pieces and letters to the editor published in the Stockton Record, Tracy Press, and Lathrop-Manteca Sun-Post newspapers every time a new round of bidding was completed.