The planned new San Diego County Central Courthouse is the most expensive project to be funded by the Judicial Council of California‘s Administrative Office of the Courts construction program to repair and replace courthouses. The program was authorized by Senate Bill 1407, enacted in 2008. Money in this Immediate and Critical Needs Account of the State Court Facilities Construction Fund was raided in subsequent years for other budget expenses, and the program was cut in size from its original $5 billion.
As threats to funding began in earnest in 2009, rumors began floating at the state capitol and in the California construction industry that lobbyists for the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California were offering to use their clout to preserve funding for the program, provided that contractors would have to sign a Project Labor Agreement to work on projects.
The November 2009 newsletter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Union Local 234 crowed that the San Benito County, Hollister Courthouse would be built union-only. A Project Labor Agreement was not imposed in the end, but in March 2011 bid specifications included a requirement that Division 28 contractors (electronic safety and security) for the Hollister courthouse construction must be affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union or Communication Workers of America (CWA) union. Associated Builders and Contractors of California coordinated a successful effort to get the discriminatory union provision removed from the bid specs, and an addendum was issued.
At some time in some way, Clark Construction negotiated a Project Labor Agreement with unions for the Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse in Long Beach. I have been unable to get a copy because the Administrative Office of the Courts claims the Project Labor Agreement is not a public record, and Clark Construction refuses to provide it to me.
Meanwhile, the crown jewel of the courthouse construction program became what was originally a $1.2 billion courthouse in downtown San Diego. (Because of funding cuts, the courthouse has been diminished to a project of about $600 million.) In an opinion piece New Courthouse: Too Big to Fall? in the February 20, 2013 San Diego Daily Transcript, former legislator and San Diego County Superior Court judge Larry Sterling criticized the project and alleged that an “advocacy cabal” of unions, contractors, and downtown business interests were propping up the project with an “edifice complex.” According to Sterling, these interests were justifying a flawed design by pointing out the state was funding all of it and by claiming it was “too late to stop,” “too big to fail,” and there were “no alternatives.”
Meanwhile, the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction first heard on February 13, 2013 that California’s Administrative Office of the Courts had directed its San Diego County Central Courthouse construction manager at-risk Rudolph & Sletten to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement with unions for the $586 million project. “The bad guys never rest, so neither do we,” wrote Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction executive director Eric Christen in an email notification to leaders in the San Diego construction industry.
On February 14, 2013, Eric Christen emailed a follow-up to his first notice:
I have spoken to the CA Superior Court’s project manager for this project. He says there is no PLA and that they do not have a position on PLAs but does encourage us to continue to educate the Working Group responsible for these types of decisions (they are all judges). I will send material and attend meetings that are open to the public…
I believe that there will be an attempt to do here what Clark did in Long Beach with that court house. We cannot let this happen. A PR and legal plan of action should be put together for this project.
There are many more projects coming from the Superior Court and we need to draw a line in the sand now with regards to PLAs.
As of April 23, 2013, the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction was still being told that this project would not have a Project Labor Agreement. There was nothing on the April 25-26 meeting agenda of the Judicial Council of California about authorizing a Project Labor Agreement. And the May 2, 2013 Pre-Qualification Application for prospective contractors on the San Diego County Central Courthouse did not mention the possibility of a Project Labor Agreement. If anything was happening, it was being done silently and secretly so the public would not know what was going on.
Nevertheless, I sent a public records request to the obscure Administrative Office of the Courts on May 14, 2013 asking for “all correspondence, including emails, from January 1, 2012 to the present regarding a requirement for construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement as a condition of working on the new San Diego County Central Courthouse.” On May 17, 2013, I received this response: “We have determined that we do hold some documents that are response to your request and it will take approximately two weeks to identify and review those documents. At the end of the two weeks, we will provide any responsive records that are not subject to an applicable exemption.”
By May 30, the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction was confident enough in its sources to issue a press release (Unions and State Conspire to Exclude Local Workers from Massive Public Courthouse Project in San Diego). I reported it in my May 30, 2013 post Construction Manager at-Risk Negotiating with Unions for a Project Labor Agreement on $600 Million San Diego County Central Courthouse.
On June 5, 2013, I sent a reminder to the Administrative Office of the Courts: “I’m checking on the status of this Public Records Act request. As someone has confirmed orally from COO Curt Child that a Project Labor Agreement is being negotiated for this project, I’m looking forward to receiving the records.” On June 6, 2013, the Administrative Office of the Courts sent me these documents:
There was the proof!
The UT San Diego/San Diego Union-Tribune reported on the secret plot in a June 7, 2013 article, Courthouse to Be Built Under Labor Pact.
An editorial Public Safety Loses, Labor Wins at New Courthouse was posted on June 9, 2013 in the UT San Diego/San Diego Union-Tribune.
My article Judicial Council of California Imposes Project Labor Agreement on San Diego Courthouse was posted on June 8, 2013 on www.UnionWatch.org. It was reposted on the blog California Political News and Views on June 9, 2013 as Judicial Council of California Imposes Project Labor Agreement on San Diego Courthouse.