Tag Archive for Blue-Green Alliance

Sierra Club Seeks Accountability for Union Claims about Project Labor Agreement Imposed on Proposed Hydrogen Energy Power Plant in Kern County, California

Whether or not you agree with the vision and political agenda of the Sierra Club California, most people in politics would acknowledge that this group’s objections to proposed projects and activities under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA (California Public Resources Code Section 21000 et seq. are genuinely based on environmental concerns. In other words, they don’t seek some kind of unrelated economic payoff from the project developer under the guise of environmental activism: they ARE environmental activists.

Sometimes the Sierra Club and other legitimate environmental groups find themselves on the same side with California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) or other coalitions of unions in opposing proposed projects. Surely this is an awkward relationship, because those unions will fight viciously on environmental grounds until they get their Project Labor Agreement or other union agreement. Then they suddenly announce that their environmental issues have been adequately addressed, and they SUPPORT the project, thus turning on the real environmental groups.

The awkwardness in the relationship between labor unions and environmental groups (the so-called Blue-Green Alliance) was revealed as early as 2004, in a Sacramento Bee article (“Pressure by Labor Group Alleged” – Sacramento Bee – September 19, 2004)

Some environmentalists who once welcomed CURE’s involvement now question its motives.

Sierra Club lobbyist V. John White once told the Contra Costa Times that CURE raises “valid issues and (moves) those issues forward.”

Interviewed for this story, White said he still thinks CURE has “done some good things.” But he’s troubled that CURE attacked an Imperial County geothermal plant [the Salton Sea Unit 6 Geothermal Power Plant, later called the Black Rock 1, 2, and 3 Geothermal Power Project – ed.] for which he has lobbied, a project designed to produce renewable energy from underground reservoirs of steam.

“They added costs and significantly delayed it, and the reasons had little to do with the environment,” White said.

Sierra Club Questions Claims of Project Labor Agreement Imposed on Proposed Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) Power Plant

The Sierra Club has long been concerned about the proposed Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) Power Plant, what it calls a “complicated and controversial project” near Buttonwillow in rural Kern County. This project has received extra attention because of up to $408 million in funding authorized for the project through the U.S. Department of Energy – much of it from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the Obama stimulus package, or H.R. 1 from 2009. The www.Recovery.gov web site has more details about the $90 million in stimulus money already spent on Hydrogen Energy California (HECA), but as stated in this April 22, 2011 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission order on Hydrogen Energy California (HECA):

Hydrogen argues that the United States Department of Energy (DOE) has recognized the project’s importance to the nation and California by providing substantial financial assistance. According to Hydrogen, its project was awarded $308 million in financial assistance on September 28, 2009, in connection with DOE’s Clean Coal Power Initiative and an additional $100 million in financial assistance was added by DOE in September 2010.

Originally the project was planned by a joint venture of British Petroleum (BP) and Rio Tinto, but in 2011 the project was transfered to SCS Energy, based in Concord, Massachusetts (a socio-economic world away from Buttonwillow). In 2012, the Sierra Club became active in exercising its status as an approved intervenor in the California Energy Commission’s licensing process for the proposed Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) power plant. It submitted a letter dated August 2, 2012 to the California Energy Commission questioning numerous aspects of the proposed project and demanding more information.

One of the data requests in the Sierra Club’s August 2 letter on HECA to the California Energy Commission (which must be answered by the applicant for the project approval) questions the claims made about local hiring and employment under the Project Labor Agreement that the project’s prime contractor, Fluor Corporation, claims to have signed with the national Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, and the Kern, Inyo, Mono Counties Building Trades Council.

Project supporters held a press conference with union officials in Buttonwillow on May 31, 2012 to tout the alleged benefits of the Project Labor Agreement. An article in the Bakersfield Californian posted on May 31, 2012 (“Hydrogen Plant Agrees to Union Labor“) reported on the Project Labor Agreement but noted a few less savory aspects of the agreement:

The agreement gives Hydrogen Energy California significant new support as it looks to state agencies for approval. It also takes HECA’s owner, Massachusetts-based SCS Energy, a step further than the previous partners, BP and Rio Tinto, which a project spokeswoman said were in talks with construction unions but never formalized a labor agreement.

A spokesman for the trade group Associated Builders & Contractors Inc. [of Central California in Bakersfield – ed.], Russell Johnson, said the labor agreement was unfortunate because it could raise the project’s costs and “shut out” the 85 percent of California construction firms that are not union shops.

The article did not mention that California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) had become an intervenor in the California Energy Commission’s licensing procedure for HECA. Nor did it mention CURE’s reputed history of blocking or delaying approval of proposed power plants using the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) until the developer or its agent signed a Project Labor Agreement. As you would expect, California Unions for Reliable Energy has not expressed any concerns about the environmental impact of this 400 megawatt project – that’s so strange considering how adamantly CURE objects to relatively innocuous small solar projects in the San Joaquin Valley!

Obviously the Sierra Club is skeptical about the union propaganda about “local hiring” concerning Project Labor Agreements for energy generation facilities in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Here is the excerpt from its August 2, 2012 letter, which speaks for itself:

Background: CONSTRUCTION TRAFFIC TRAVEL DISTANCES

The AFC, p. 5.1-9, states that trip distances for estimating off-site construction emissions were based on the assumption that workers and delivery trucks are traveling within Kern County. Appendix E-2, p. 35, shows that the AFC assumes off-site roundtrip distances worker commuting vehicles, delivery trucks, and import fill trucks of between 38.0 to 39.8 miles, i.e., it assumes that all vehicles operate only within a radius of less than 20 miles around the Project site. The AFC does not provide any support for these assumptions. A 20-mile roundtrip distance appears unrealistically short for both the construction workforce and the delivery/fill import vehicles and may therefore underestimate emissions associated with vehicle travel.

Data Requests:

25. According to the AFC, p. 5.8-15, the average size of the workforce over the approximately 49-month construction and commissioning period would be 1,159 workers (including construction workers and contractor staff); the peak month of construction would require 2,090 craft workers (on site) and 371 contractor staff. It appears unlikely that a sufficiently skilled construction labor force would be available in Kern County within a 20 mile radius of the Project site. Further, based on the 1982 report Socioeconomic Impacts of Power Plants by the Electric Power Research Institute, construction workers will commute as much as 60 miles daily to construction sites from their homes rather than relocate, and considerably further on a weekly basis. This indicates that the construction workforce would likely come from farther than 20 miles from the Project site. Elsewhere, the AFC states that approximately 60 percent of the workforce is expected to be hired from within Kern County but that it is possible that some portion of the labor force will be drawn from Los Angeles County. (AFC, pp. 5.8-3, -16 and -18.) In addition, HECA has recently signed a project labor agreement (“PLA”) with the National Building and Construction Trades Department, the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, and the Kern, Inyo, and Mono Counties Building and Construction Trades Council. Thus, some of the construction workforce may come from Inyo and Mono Counties. The southern border of Mono County is more than 150 miles from the Project site.

a) Please provide a copy of the PLA and/or indicate whether the PLA contains a breakdown for the origin of the construction workforce by county.

b) Please provide a breakdown of the available construction labor workforce by county.

c) Please identify typical travel distances for the construction workforce by county.

d) Please discuss whether you anticipate that construction workers would commute from their residence on a daily or weekly basis or seek lodging closer to the Project site.

e) Please revise emission estimates for worker vehicle travel during Project construction according to your responses above.

Now more of the truth will come out about the union workforce locked in to build this power plant.

Where the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust Spends Its Money: Now We See How Unions Spread It

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust is an arcane entity authorized by the obscure Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978, a law signed by President Jimmy Carter and implemented by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. There are no federal or state regulations specifically addressed toward these trusts, and these trusts do not have any reporting requirements to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards.

Since its founding in 2006, the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust has collected $5,110,095 in receipts, consisting of $2.6 million in seed money from another trust, about $1.7 million in “membership dues” (paid by power plant owners and contractors as a condition of Project Labor Agreements extracted by California Unions for Reliable Energy), and $450,000 in net investment returns. A chart of the organization’s finances is at the end of this post.

Where does the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust send its millions of dollars? I attempted to find out using the organization’s IRS Form 990s (2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008), state and local campaign finance reports, and other sources. See the list below.

1.  $1,095,000 – Taxpayers to Preserve Community Jobs, No on Measure A, sponsored by labor and management organizations (June 5, 2012 election in City of San Diego)

As of May 25, 2012, the California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperative Trust has contributed $1,095,000 to the campaign committee opposing Proposition A, a “Fair and Open Competition” measure on the June 5, 2012 ballot in the City of San Diego that would prohibit the city from requiring construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with unions as a condition of working on a taxpayer-funded project. The California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperative Trust has provided 92% of all receipts for this campaign committee.

2.  $770,000 – UCLA Labor Center (aka UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education), part of the University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Program

The California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust has contributed a cumulative total of $770,000 to the UCLA Labor Center, primarily or exclusively for the establishment and operation of the UCLA Labor Center’s California Construction Academy, a propaganda operation that issues biased studies and bogus reports about construction labor issues using the UCLA name and affiliation.

The UCLA Office of Research Administration’s Office of Contract and Grant Administration received $250,000 in 2010-11, $250,000 in 2009-10, and $150,000 in 2008-09 from the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust. In 2007-08, the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust contributed $120,000 for a “Workforce Development Leadership Academy Grant” sent to PO Box 951478 in Los Angeles, zip code 90095. (This is the address for the UCLA Labor Center.)

There seems to be confusion at the UCLA Labor Center about how much the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust has contributed to the UCLA Labor Center’s California Construction Academy. The 2010-11 annual report for the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education recognizes a grant of $450,000 from the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust, but a footnote added on April 4, 2012 indicates that the $450,000 is a cumulative amount for several years, with $180,000 as the actual amount for 2010-11. A press release from the UCLA Labor Center’s California Construction Academy tries to rebut a March 27, 2012 article from www.PublicCEO.com entitled Project Labor Agreement Debate is as Complex as It is Conflicted by stating that “according to the 2009 990 IRS Form, the UCLA Labor Center received $450,000. In fact, when clicking on the document, the amount the Labor Center received was $180,000.” (See this link: Correction on PublicCEO.com Post: CCA Advances Broad Construction Industry InterestsCalifornia Construction Academy: A Project of the UCLA Labor Center – March 27, 2012.) PublicCEO.com then countered with its own correction that stated “Editors note: Originally, the UCLA Annual Report showed a donation of $450,000, as was reported in this article. That was an incorrect total. The report, and this article, now accurately reflect a donation of $250,000. The $450,000 UCLA reported was a total of several years.”

This outfit of five professional staff promotes the political agenda of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, including government-mandated Project Labor Agreements and union control of so-called “green jobs” in the construction industry. The founding Academy Director and Senior Advisor is David Sickler, former Southern California Regional Director of the State Building and Construction Trades Council. The advisory board for the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education consists extensively of officials representing building trades unions. 

The UCLA Labor Center California Construction Academy was the organization used by the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California to awkwardly and ineffectively challenge a study published in July 2011 by the National University System Institute for Policy Research in San Diego indicating that schools built in California with Project Labor Agreements cost 13%-15% more than schools built under fair and open competition. As part of this response, the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust mailed a letter to local elected officials throughout the state attacking the study, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson mailed a letter to county superintendents and other educational officials attacking the study and providing the report from the UCLA Labor Center California Construction Academy.

3.  $250,000 – No 98/Yes 99 – A Committee of City and County Associations, Taxpayers and Environmental Groups, League of California Cities, Californians for Neighborhood Protection, Coalition of Conservationists

On April 7, 2008, the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust contributed $250,000 to this No on 98/Yes on 99 campaign committee to oppose a statewide ballot proposition on the June 2008 ballot that would have restricted the ability of governments to gain possession of private property through eminent domain. The proposition failed – it only received 39% of the vote.

4.  $164,550 – “Other” (?)

The California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust reports that it spent $164,550 on “Other” fees for services (non-employees) in 2010-11. No additional information is given, and these expenditures are not classified as administrative, accounting, or legal services. I’m unable to determine where this money went, but I’m guessing it was used for something political that promoted unions and socked it to California taxpayers. Any ideas?

Contrary to some rumors, “Other” does not appear to be the union front group Citizens Against Identity Theft and Ballot Fraud, sponsored by labor organizations, which funded a radio advertising scam in the summer of 2011 meant to discourage Sacramento and San Diego voters from signing petitions to place Fair and Open Competition measures and a Paycheck Protection initiative on the 2012 ballots. See my post thoroughly outlining this scheme here.

5.  $100,000 – Apollo Alliance

The Apollo Alliance received $75,000 in 2010-11 and $25,000 in 2009-10 from the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust. This is currently a project of the Blue-Green Alliance, a coalition of environmental organizations and unions on a quest to stop global warming through government programs and a union workforce. President Obama’s former “Green Jobs Czar” Van Jones was an influential founder and leader of this organization.

6.  $100,000 – Paxton-Patterson Construction Lab/Shop in San Joaquin County

In 2007-08, the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust contributed $100,000 to the San Joaquin Office of Education’s Career and Technical Education Program to establish a Paxton-Patterson Construction Lab/Shop.

The story behind this contribution is a mystery. Public records provided by the San Joaquin Office of Education in October 2011 did not include any documents dated earlier than September 17, 2007, when the former County Superintendent sent a letter to Bob Balgenorth (chairman of the the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, and chairman of California Unions for Reliable Energy – CURE) thanking him for the contribution. Surely there was something beforehand that led to a private contribution of $100,000 arriving at the office! Those kinds of checks usually don’t arrive in the mail without extensive solicitation.

In addition, the records did not indicate whether or not the Paxton-Patterson Construction Lab/Shop was ever built. Where are the two plaques celebrating Bob Balgenorth (as referenced in the letter)? When was the photo op? Where are the photos? How was the money spent?

In May 2007, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of working on the county’s New Administration Building. (See my post here providing some background on that vote.) Is there a connection between the two incidents? 

7.  $50,000 – Taxpayers to Preserve Community Jobs, No On Measure G, sponsored by labor and management organizations (June 8, 2010 election in City of Chula Vista)

The California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperative Trust contributed $50,000 to the campaign committee opposing Proposition G, a “Fair and Open Competition” measure on the June 8, 2010 ballot in the City of Chula Vista that would prohibit the city from requiring construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with unions as a condition of working on a taxpayer-funded project. The funding was in vain, as 56.37% of Chula Vista voters approved the proposed ordinance.

The ordinance is now Chula Vista Municipal Code Section 02-59. At the behest of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, Governor Brown and the Democrat Party leadership in the California State Legislature tried to financially punish the citizens of Chula Vista for enacting this ballot measure with Senate Bill 922 (signed into law in 2011) and Senate Bill 829 (signed into law in 2012). See my blog posts about these laws here and here.

8.  $50,000 – Fresno Area Construction Team (F.A.C.T.)

A group called the Fresno Area Construction Team received $50,000 in 2010-11 from the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperation Trust to promote union contractors, union construction, and union apprenticeship programs in the Central Valley. It appears to have the involvement of the Sheet Metal Workers Union Local No. 162, Plumbers Union Local No. 246, and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local No. 100. This group advertises, spent $51,862 on “consulting,” and even spent $992 on “travel and entertainment for public officials,” according to this form.

Financials: California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust

Year Gross Receipts Contributions & Grants/Program Service Revenue/Other Investment Income Total Revenue
   $ 2,595,954 “Contribution from Prior Trust”
2007-08  $    593,950  $    283,670  $      97,150  $    380,820
2008-09  $    463,792  $    506,403  $    (42,611)  $    463,792
2009-10  $    522,782  $    274,437  $    200,583  $    475,020
2010-11  $    933,617  $    678,209  $    195,780  $    873,989
Total  $ 5,110,095  $ 1,742,719  $    450,902  $ 2,193,621

 

Year Grants & Similar Amounts Other Expenses Total Expenses
2007-08  $    220,000  $    290,859.  $    510,859
2008-09  $    150,000  $      21,143  $    171,143
2009-10  $    205,000  $      16,839  $    221,830
2010-11  $    375,000  $    234,319  $    609,319
Total  $    950,000  $    563,160  $ 1,513,151

 

Year Revenue Minus Expenses Total Assets
2007-08  $  (130,039)  $ 2,595,954
2008-09  $    292,649  $ 2,888,603
2009-10  $    253,181  $ 3,141,784
2010-11  $    264,670  $ 3,406,454