Tag Archive for Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors

The Troubled History of Government-Mandated Project Labor Agreements on Construction Contracts for Contra Costa County, California

For 20 years, Contra Costa County, California (in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area) has been a hotbed of union lobbying efforts to convince local governments to require construction contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions as a condition of work. It was one of the first places in the country where unions deliberately used government-mandated Project Labor Agreements to organize construction workers and expand the market share of unionized construction companies.

In the 1990s, Contra Costa County was the only place in California where local governments required contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements for routine building projects, thus expanding Project Labor Agreements beyond their traditional use on large, complex, multi-year infrastructure projects.

Project Labor Agreements imposed by the Pinole City Council and the Board of Directors of the Contra Costa Water District were targets of litigation in the mid-1990s as supporters and opponents of government-mandated Project Labor Agreements began testing their legal theories in the state court system. Two of the three plaintiffs in a 2001 lawsuit challenging a presidential executive order restricting Project Labor Agreements were the Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council and the City of Richmond (located in Contra Costa County).

The Troubled History of Government-Mandated Project Labor Agreements on Construction Contracts for Contra Costa County, CaliforniaAt the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, government-mandated Project Labor Agreements have been chronically associated with controversy. The Troubled History of Government-Mandated Project Labor Agreements for Contra Costa County, California provides the history of Project Labor Agreements for county construction.

The California Construction Compliance Group released the paper several days before the Internal Operations Committee of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors was scheduled to discuss amending the county’s mandatory project labor agreement policy at its December 10, 2012 meeting. Outside parties apparently recognized the effectiveness and accuracy of the paper, as top construction union officials demanded and achieved removal of the item from the meeting agenda.

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.

Author of Most Comprehensive Study on the Cost of Project Labor Agreements Speaks in Contra Costa County, California and Earns Inflatable Rat Balloon Greeting

UPDATE: see coverage of the meeting by Lisa Vorderbrueggen of the Contra Costa Times newspaper in “Political Blotter: Politics in the Bay Area and Beyond:”

Was that a Rat on Contra Costa Boulevard? – Contra Costa Times – May 18, 2012


This morning I went to a meeting of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association featuring a presentation by Erik Bruvold, the President and CEO of the National University System Institute for Policy Research, based in San Diego. This institute describes itself as “a groundbreaking economic think tank that promotes high quality economic, policy, and public-opinion research to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of local governments.”

Bruvold is the lead author of “Measuring the Costs of Project Labor Agreements on School Construction in California.” Published in July 2011, this study is the most comprehensive statistical assessment ever done about the fiscal impact of government-mandated Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), with a sample size five times larger than any other study. The study takes into account several potential cost variables overlooked in earlier PLA studies, and it was reviewed for its credibility and accuracy by economists at The Keston Institute for Public Finance and Infrastructure Policy at the University of Southern California.

It was appropriate for Bruvold to make a major public presentation in Contra Costa County, located in the San Francisco Bay Area with a population of 1.1 million. For 20 years, Contra Costa County has been a hotbed of political and legal battles over government-mandated Project Labor Agreements. In fact, in some ways Contra Costa County has been a national leader in the union strategic effort to use government-mandated Project Labor Agreements as a tool to gain market share of taxpayer-funded construction.

For example, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors was the first government in California to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for a public project (the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in 1994 – see background here). In 2001, the Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council and the City of Richmond (in Contra Costa County) joined the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO in a court challenge to President George W. Bush’s Executive Order 13202 prohibiting federal funding on construction projects on which governments require contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions as a condition of work. (The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the lawsuit in Building and Construction Trades Department AFL-CIO v. Allbaugh, No. 01-5436.)

The Contra Costa Taxpayers Association describes itself as “a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting accountable, cost-effective and efficient government and opposing unnecessary taxes and spending.” This organization has long opposed government-mandated Project Labor Agreements – not surprising when the study “Measuring the Costs of Project Labor Agreements on School Construction in California” indicates a 13-15% increased cost of construction when the bid specifications of school districts require contractors to sign a PLA.

Obviously this study irks union officials. Several dozen union picketers and an inflatable rat balloon were in front of the Hyatt House in Pleasant Hill to greet the 93 meeting attendees.

In addition, two union officials (Aram Hodess, who is a California Apprenticeship Council commissioner and business manager of UA Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 159, and Kevin VanBuskirk, who is a business representative of the Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 104) were handing out this double-sided flyer at the front door of the hotel.

I felt Bruvold did an excellent job in explaining the following: (1) his institute spent a year collecting and confirming data from school districts, state governments, and the McGraw-Hill publishing company, (2) his institute’s study is exceptional for its large sample size and its effort to account for numerous potential variables, (3) California has rigid school construction standards that minimize cost variables and allow for reasonable comparisons, and (4) a weakness of the study is that it’s impossible to completely disentangle the increased costs of Project Labor Agreements from the increased costs of construction at the Los Angeles Unified School District. Bruvold also rebutted the argument that cost differences were the result of different government-mandated construction wage rates (so-called prevailing wages).

A bunch of union people attended the meeting and asked questions afterwards. Bruvold remained calm and objective throughout his presentation. He declined to speculate much on why school construction costs more under a Project Labor Agreement and why school construction costs more at the Los Angeles Unified School District.

I’ll tell you what I think. School construction costs more under a Project Labor Agreement because non-union contractors generally refuse to bid on projects with a PLA, and subcontractors generally refuse to participate in bids. Less competition means higher costs.

This common sense observation is confirmed by studies done by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University on school construction in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York, as well as anecdotal evidence from 15 projects across the country bid both with and without a PLA.

I contend that school construction costs more at the Los Angeles Unified School District because of what I call the “Urban Corruption Variable.” In fact, I encourage someone to commission the National University System Institute for Policy Research to perform the same research but try to isolate the Corruption Variable and rank the waste, fraud, and abuse at the state’s school districts from best to worst. Contact Erik Bruvold here to inquire about the cost of performing this study.