Tag Archive for Contra Costa Times

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.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Publishes Guide on “Sabotage, Stalking & Stealth Exemptions: Special State Laws for Labor Unions” – California Is Featured

I was pleased to see that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report on August 10, 2012 through its “Workforce Freedom Initiative” on a fairly obscure topic that is usually left to the National Right to Work Committee and its research wing, the National Institute for Labor Relations Research: special exemptions from prosecution for union officials when their actions normally regarded as crimes are committed in the context of “lawful labor union activity” protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) or state labor relations laws (such as California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act).

“Sabotage, Stalking & Stealth Exemptions: Special State Laws for Labor Unions” concludes that “The most glaring examples of union favoritism under state laws tend to occur in criminal statutes and allow individuals who engage in truly objectionable behavior to avoid prosecution solely because they are participating in some form of labor activity.”

As you might guess, much of this report focuses on California laws, in particular laws that compromise private property rights when union officials are trespassing on private property on union business. It cites several examples:

  • criminal trespass and trespassing laws in California Penal Code Section 602 that do not apply to “persons engaged in lawful labor union activities”
  • rules in California Penal Code Section 640 against willfully blocking the free movement of another person in a public transportation system facility or vehicle except when related to “collective bargaining, labor relations, or labor disputes”
  • criminal laws in California Penal Code Section 420.1 against preventing, hindering, or obstructing someone from entering, leaving, or passing through land, except when the perpetrator is engaged in “lawful labor union activities”
  • laws in California Penal Code Section 552.1 criminalizing trespassing on or loitering at industrial facilities, except when people are lawfully “engaging in any organizational effort on behalf of any labor union, agent, or member thereof, or of any employee group, or any member thereof, employed or formerly employed in any place of business or manufacturing establishment described in this article, or for the purpose of carrying on the lawful activities of labor unions, or members thereof” or acting for the “purpose of investigation of the safety of working conditions on posted property by a representative of a labor union or other employee group who has upon his person written evidence of due authorization by his labor union or employee group to make such investigation.”

I’ve been told by management-oriented labor law attorneys that the “lawful labor union activities” in the California Penal Code are often raised by unions as a justification to trespass, but these exemptions generally pertain to union officials who have a valid claim to observe working conditions and monitor an employer’s compliance with a collective bargaining agreement (or a Project Labor Agreement).

Here is some additional information to flesh out some of the California examples in this guide:

Restraining Orders and Preliminary and Permanent Injunctions

The report dedicates a few paragraphs to the Ralphs Grocery v. United Food & Commercial Workers Union cases now to be considered at the California Supreme Court. These cases deal with two union privileges in state law that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce report does not specifically cite. Here’s a bit more detail:

On July 19, 2010, the California Third Appellate Court issued a decision invalidating the so-called Moscone Act, signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in 1975, that limited the ability of state courts to issue any restraining order or preliminary or permanent injunction to stop a variety of actions related to labor disputes. (The Moscone Act is California Code of Civil Procedure Section 527.3.) This decision on a rather obscure topic actually generated an article in a major California newspaper: the July 20, 2010 San Francisco Chronicle: Pro-Union Law Struck Down by Appeals Court.

To summarize very crudely in layman’s terms, the court determined that the owner of private property with some degree of public access (such as a grocery store) can get an injunction from a state court to stop peaceful speech activity (such as picketing and handing out flyers) on that private property even when it is related to a labor dispute.

The appeals court also declared a second labor law to be invalid: California Labor Code Section 1138.1, which was part of Assembly Bill 1268, signed into law by Governor Gray Davis in 1999. This bill declared that unions and union officials and members were not responsible for unlawful acts committed by union members during labor disputes unless there was “clear proof of actual participation in, or actual authorization of those acts.” It also established very high standards for a court to issue a temporary or permanent injunction in any case involving or growing out of a labor dispute.

The most informed and aggressive opponent of AB 1268 was my former employer, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of California. It was one of ABC of California’s “Dirty Dozen Most Unwanted Bills of 1999” during the first year of the Gray Davis administration.

ABC of California asserted that AB 1268 would encourage violence during labor disputes. A contractor who was then a member of ABC testified against the bill in a committee hearing along with attorney Brad Newman (now with the Paul Hastings, LLP law firm in Palo Alto), who also submitted a 17-page brief during the April 21, 1999 hearing to the bill’s author, State Senator Shelia Kuehl, pointing out the bill was unconstitutional. He also submitted a follow-up brief on the amended version of the bill. (Mr. Newman was vindicated after eleven years!)  ABC of California also had its members send faxes to Governor Davis asking him to veto the bill. I spoke on a Modesto conservative radio talk show about the bill. The Contra Costa Times published an August 29, 1999 editorial opposed to it. Davis signed it anyway.

The California Fifth Appellate Court issued a similar decision striking down the Moscone Act and AB 1268 on January 27, 2011.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) appealed both court decisions to the California Supreme Court. See information about the appeal of the Third Appeals Court decision to the California Supreme Court here and information about the appeal of the Fifth Appeals Court decision to the California Supreme Court here.

Warning to Employers: Unions Assert Special Rights to Trespass in California

I’ve been told by management-oriented labor law attorneys that California employers can best protect themselves against trespassing issues by treating union trespassers in the same way as other trespassers. They tell me that if an employer treats visitors, solicitors, lunch trucks, and tool trucks differently than union “visitors,” that inconsistency can be exploited by union lawyers.

In addition, “An employer clearly acts at his own peril if he effects a citizen’s arrest of a union visitor on private property in California.” This was the advice given in 2001 by a California management-oriented labor law attorney in the wake of the June 13, 2001 Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision in Radcliffe v. Rainbow Construction Company.

Indeed, union representatives who visit job sites sometimes come armed with letters from their union attorneys claiming that this court decision and other state laws allow union officials and “non-employee union organizers” to enter private property for the purpose of engaging in labor compliance and other “lawful labor union activity.” I have a collection of such letters.

There seems to be demand from California employers for a guide concerning union trespassing, including information on union access to workers to pressure them to sign of union authorization cards. In the meantime, if your company is having problems with union officials and union organizers trespassing on your property or job site, you should consult with a management-oriented labor law attorney before you take any action.

Additional Coverage of This Guide:

States Exempt Labor Unions from Stalking, Trespassing Laws – August 10, 2012 – The Foundry: Conservative Policy News Blog of The Heritage Foundation

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.