Tag Archive for www.UnionWatch.org

California Public Agencies Revert to Closed Session When Construction Unions Have a Spat Over Who Gets Taxpayers’ Money

UPDATE (November 13, 2013): At its November 12, 2013 meeting, the board of trustees for Rancho Santiago Community College District voted unanimously to continue a practice adopted in August 2013 not to discuss its Measure Q Project Labor Agreement negotiations in closed session until the college chancellor gets legal clarification from California Attorney General Kamala Harris. An opinion from the Attorney General is not likely to be produced for several months.

Speaking in support of having the discussions in open session was Dave Everett, Government Affairs Director for the Southern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, and Craig Alexander of the Pacific Justice Institute. On behalf of trustee Phil Yarbrough, Alexander wrote a November 5, 2013 memo to the board explaining why discussing Project Labor Agreement negotiations in closed session was not legal.

The head of the Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council was at the meeting but didn’t speak. Also silent was board member José Solorio, who is running for California State Senate in 2014 and appears to be the impetus for the Project Labor Agreement.

During his public comments, Dave Everett asked the college to identify its source for the list of local governments that have discussed Project Labor Agreements in closed session. The chancellor responded that staff obtained the list, but Mr. Everett then asked if those governments had indicated their closed session discussions on public meeting agendas. The chancellor did not know. Mr. Everett then expressed concern that the list was provided by a union lawyer based on personal experience and knowledge – not a reliable source of information for making decisions concerning a $198 million bond measure.

In addition, when the board president asked Mr. Everett if he assumed the construction plan would not move forward while the college and unions were negotiating a Project Labor Agreement, Mr. Everett responded by asking “Are they planning the projects with or without a PLA?” The board president replied “I’m not going to tell you that”  and then the Chancellor declared the exchange to be out of order.

Thank you to elected trustee Phil Yarbrough for being a champion of the people on this issue.

There are always a few “people on the fringe” who stubbornly fight for what is right after most people choose to acquiesce to the prevailing culture for their own good and the alleged “common good.” I’m told that a few aggressive opponents of the construction union political agenda are spoiling negotiations for “peace in our time” and making California’s political, corporate, and union leaders very angry.

Construction trade union lobbyists and lawyers are continuing to advance legislative strategies that will neutralize these people, described as “radicals” by one union official. These union strategies eliminate or circumvent structural checks and balances that advocates of fair and open competition use to expose and derail Project Labor Agreements and other union initiatives.

In my September 17, 2013 article in www.UnionWatch.org (California Construction Unions Circumvent Public Scrutiny of Project Labor Agreements), I reported on “the end of public deliberation and votes for Project Labor Agreements in the legislative branch of state and local governments. Instead, backroom deals are made in the executive branch to give unions control of the work.”

Now, in my November 9, 2013 article in www.FlashReport.org entitled Smoothing Over Project Labor Agreement Disputes in Closed Session: The Latest Union Scheme for “Progress” in California, I report that “In order to evade public scrutiny of government-mandated Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) for construction contracts, union officials are implementing a strategy to redirect certain discussions of this controversial issue into ‘closed session’ at board meetings of government agencies.” The board of trustees for the Rancho Santiago Community College District will discuss the legality of the practice at its November 12, 2013 meeting.

The public learned about this abuse of “closed session” through my July 23, 2013 article in www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com entitled Project Labor Agreement Negotiations Fail, Government Transparency Is Restored, Ferry Agency Resumes Fair and Open Bid Competition, followed by a July 27, 2013 article in the Vallejo Times-HeraldVallejo Ferry Hub Accord in Jeopardy.

It’s not hard to figure out what’s happening. Ultimately, the negotiation and execution of Project Labor Agreements for government projects will always occur administratively through backroom deals, without unpleasant and embarrassing public discussions and votes. The perspectives of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, Associated Builders and Contractors, certain districts and chapters of Associated General Contractors, the Western Electrical Contractors Association, and local business and taxpayer groups will be moot.

Union Trying to Organize Silicon Valley Security Guards Threatens Apple, Inc. with Lawsuit under California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

I have been compiling a list of union-instigated activity in 2013 involving the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). (See Revised List of Union Actions in 2013 Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) at www.UnionWatch.org.) In a practice sometimes called “greenmail,” unions exploit CEQA to attain economic objectives from public agencies and private developers that are unrelated to environmental protection.

The latest example (the 24th I’ve discovered this year) is a threat from the Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West against a massive proposed project for Apple, Inc. called Apple Campus 2 in Cupertino. The SEIU-USWW is trying to organize employees of companies that provide security under contract to the major companies in Silicon Valley, including Apple.

Read my October 19, 2013 article Union Threatens to Block Apple, Inc. “Spaceship” with Environmental Lawsuit at www.UnionWatch.org.

News Coverage

Anticipation High for Apple Spaceship Approval, But Questions Linger – Silicon Valley Business Journal – October 14, 2013

Source Documents

SEIU-USWW Letter on Draft Environmental Impact Report for Apple 2 Campus

SEIU-USWW Letter on Final Environmental Impact Report for Apple 2 Campus

Union Sues ObamaCare Program in California to Axe Kaiser Permanente from List of Twelve Qualified Health Plans

On August 7, Covered California – the program of the California Health Benefit Exchange established by the California Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to implement the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) – announced that it had executed agreements with twelve insurance companies in its market for individuals.

But wait! On September 4, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) sued the California Health Benefit Exchange for the purpose of disqualifying Kaiser Permanente from participation in the program. (See National Union of Healthcare Workers v. California Health Benefit Exchange.) Of course, the lawsuit against Kaiser isn’t really about health care: it’s about union organizing.

There has been surprisingly little news coverage of this lawsuit, with the Sacramento Business Journal being the only news source with firsthand reporting on it. (See “Union Seeks to Block Kaiser from Health Benefit Exchange.”) Perhaps the topic is too complex or obscure, or perhaps news organizations are hesitant right now to show weaknesses in ObamaCare.

However, I reported on the lawsuit in my September 10, 2013 article in www.UnionWatch.orgUnion Files Lawsuit Exploiting ObamaCare in California for Organizing Purposes. I introduce the article by directing readers to “Add ObamaCare to the list of laws that California unions are exploiting for ‘corporate campaign’ strategies to coerce labor agreements or exert pressure during labor disputes.”

Republicans Pushing the Construction Union Agenda in the California Legislature

Almost all Democrats in the California State Legislature vote in committee and on the floor of their chamber for any bill sponsored by the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. There are exceptions in rare circumstances, usually when a Democrat recognizes that a union-backed bill sets up an artificial system to favor middle class suburban white men among people seeking vocational education and employment in the construction trades.

Now there are Republican legislators supporting the construction union legislative agenda, in effect voting for government intervention to maintain or expand union involvement in commerce. I informed Republican leaders and activists about this development in an August 19, 2013 article in www.FlashReport.orgUnions Tempt Republicans with “Bipartisanship” Lure: Five Tips for Resistance – and an August 20, 2013 article in www.UnionWatch.org – Some Republican State Legislators in California Push the Union Agenda.

Republican elected officials who support the union agenda have a right to do so, but they need to be accountable to voters and to Republicans who see their 157 year-old political party as a defender of free markets and limited government. I believe that Republicans who vote for the union agenda in 2013 (as opposed to say, 1931) think this kind of voting record will help them get re-elected to office or elected to higher office.

That strategy doesn’t often work when it really matters. Generally, unions end up supporting a Democrat with a credible chance of winning a competitive election against a Republican who votes for greater union power and influence in commerce and government. There are practical parliamentary reasons to do so: party majorities and supermajorities are fundamental to the development of public policy.

I’ve noticed during more than 20 years working in politics that Republicans who support union-backed bills also tend to be the ones who end up “compromising” under pressure on high-profile budget issues – tax increases, for example – often in exchange for political favors. Votes on union issues are a key indicator of where an elected official will stand when the Establishment is clamoring to take more money from people to fund government programs.

Will Someone Dare to Admit in Public that Labor Unions Derailed Meaningful CEQA Reform?

As I reported in my August 12 www.UnionWatch.org article Union Environmental Appeal of San Jose Infill High-Rise Fools No One, construction trade unions are so confident about their capability to prevent meaningful reform of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that they brazenly appealed city approval of a San Jose infill project on CEQA grounds (as well as planning and zoning grounds) at a critical stage in the development of the primary CEQA reform bill, Senate Bill 731.

Union officials in San Jose surely knew that SB 731 has been whittled down to only addressing CEQA abuse on infill projects – the head of the Santa Clara-San Benito Counties Building and Construction Trades Council is married to a member of the California State Assembly.

As of this writing, the most updated insider report on CEQA reform (from California Forward’s California Economic Summit web site) reiterates the remarks of State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg at an August 12 Assembly hearing on SB 731. Here is an excerpt from CEQA Roundup: With Time Running Out, Steinberg Doubles Down on Infill, Tries to Pull Back Business:

Sen. Darrell Steinberg used the final policy committee hearing on his much-debated CEQA legislation this week to draw a clear line around the goal of his year-long effort to reform the state’s forty-year-old environmental law – and to try to pull back business leaders who have begun to drift away from negotiations as the legislative session nears an end.

Updating CEQA for infill projects, Steinberg made clear, is in.

As for the rest of the more comprehensive changes to the law sought by the business community – including efforts to rein in what business leaders consider widespread CEQA litigation abuse and to streamline its cumbersome process for projects outside specific infill sites? Those ideas, Steinberg said in surprisingly pointed remarks, are most definitely out

“If there is any expectation – and I know there is a big expectation – that my bill will include the lengthy and ever-changing list that the CEQA coalition seems to want, you’re going to have to find another author, another year, another time, another way to do this.”

Senator Steinberg represents the City of Sacramento. There are at least two Sacramento infill projects that construction trade unions recently tried to hassle using CEQA; the Railyards project and the Township 9 project. In addition, in recent years unions have used CEQA in Sacramento to block the Greenbriar and Delta Shores developments, the Sutter Medical Center in midtown, and the Promenade at Natomas development. Steinberg certainly knows about union greenmail – it happens in his own district.

At this time, lobbyists for construction unions that are active in “greenmail” (environmental permit extortion) claim their organizations support whatever Steinberg is developing, which means they aren’t worried about his bill ever compromising their power to stop infill projects when they want a Project Labor Agreement. The California Economic Summit blog has twice reported on the role of unions in discussions about CEQA reform and SB 731:

While would-be reformers have continued to push for what they call “meaningful” changes to CEQA, sources close to the negotiations have said Steinberg was surprised by the opposition from some labor leaders, in particular, who also pushed back against his legislation’s focus on streamlining CEQA for infill projects. Viewing those same projects as a steady stream of future jobs, labor groups are wary of losing CEQA as a tool they can use to reach project labor agreements with developers.

The main business coalition pushing for CEQA reform, CEQA Working Group, is still not publicly acknowledging that unions are a major (if not THE major) abuser of CEQA to win objectives unrelated to environmental protection. In fact, other people have mentioned to me that the otherwise-excellent CEQA Working Group list of ten “CEQA Misuse Case Studies” does not include one example of union greenmail. This is not an accident.

More is said in public by the CEQA Working Group about Andy’s BP using CEQA to prevent Moe’s Stop from adding three gas dispensers than is said about the pervasive involvement of unions in stopping residential, commercial, and industrial projects throughout the state in order to pressure developers to sign Project Labor Agreements or other labor agreements. Who has seen, heard, or viewed anything in the news recently that identifies unions as a primary obstacle to developing “green energy” projects essential for the state to reach its greenhouse gas emissions goals set through the “Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006” (AB 32)?

This does not mean that Californians wouldn’t regard union greenmail as outrageous and important; in fact, most ordinary people immediately label it as extortion when they find out about it. Silence about this practice shows how unions subtly control even what business and political leaders and the news media say in public about state and local government policies.

At least there is “alternative social media” nowadays to get the message out. I have compiled 21 CEQA Misuse Case Studies featuring union activity just for 2013 alone, and I’m sure the list is still missing several 2013 incidents. I’ve also compiled an extensive list of union environmental inference in the permitting for solar thermal power plants and solar photovoltaic projects. See these lists:

Collect Them All: Environmental Objections of California Unions in 2013

Involvement of California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) or International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) or the Laborers Union (LIUNA) in the Local Government Permitting Process for Solar Photovoltaic Power Plants

California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) Involvement in the Sixteen Applications to the California Energy Commission for Approval of a Solar Thermal Power Plant

In the meantime, I’m hoping that major California business groups act out their frustration about wasting a year trying to reform CEQA by finally exposing the Big Time CEQA abuse of unions.


Unions Earn Growing Reputation as Bob Filner Apologists – Will Voters Make Them Accountable?

In my August 6, 2013 www.UnionWatch.org article entitled Take the Filner Challenge: Advance the Union Political Agenda, I explain why an August 3, 2013 article in the UT San Diego newspaper can reasonably claim that San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s “list of supporters has shrunk to just one major group – organized labor and its allies.” This UT San Diego article includes an ill-advised and now-notorious remark from Tom Lemmon, head of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council:

It’s an awkward situation, but we have a lot invested in him. We believe in due process, so let it take its course.

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that Tom Lemmon is hesitant to castigate Mayor Bob Filner, considering that Congressman Bob Filner inserted a very nice statement about him in the September 10, 2012 Congressional Record.

We need to congratulate Tom Lemmon for his many years of dedicated service to the organized labor movement in San Diego and to working men and women all across this great nation!

Looking at the larger perspective, union leaders know that San Diego will one day forget Bob Filner the sexually harassing mayor, but the legacy of Bob Filner the union mayor may persist for generations. Union leaders have chosen to be politically pragmatic rather than make a public judgment about what kind of person should serve the people of San Diego as the city’s chief executive.

Nevertheless, unions are being called out on their amoral stance. An August 4 post on www.Breibart.com cited the UT San Diego article: “Unions Stand By Filthy Filner, ‘Have a lot Invested in Him.‘” As of August 13, there were 131 comments about the article – many expressing the idea that birds of a feather flock together. The article was also circulated widely via social media, tainting the reputation of labor unions across the country.

By sticking with Filner, union leaders have given San Diego Republican leaders an opportunity to highlight the shortcomings of the region’s most politically powerful leftist coalition.

Double standards are apparent. I have noted on Twitter that the North Bay Labor Council and the Sonoma, Lake & Mendocino Building and Construction Trades Council are calling for the resignation of Sonoma County Supervisor and Democrat Efren Carrillo, who has been arrested twice in the past year under strange circumstances and apparently has a drinking problem. See the July 31, 2013 press release North Bay Labor Council & Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino Building Trades Council Call For Supervisor Efren Carrillo to Resign.

Of course, a cynic would point out that union leaders in Sonoma County have detested Supervisor Carrillo since he refused to advance a proposed Project Labor Agreement policy for county projects. See my September 19, 2012 article Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Abandons Project Labor Agreement Policy; Instead Directs Staff to Negotiate Project Labor Agreement for Sonoma County Airport Expansion, which includes a series of heated tweets from Lisa Maldonado, the head of the North Bay Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

Maldonado has actually been relatively restrained on Twitter after Carrillo’s second arrest.

Shame on Unions! Put Women Ahead of Your "Investment!"- San Diego Mayor Bob FilnerNow flyers are circulating in San Diego to make union leaders accountable for their decision to stick by Mayor Bob Filner. Considering how leaders of these labor organizations have no shame in blocking high-profile construction projects using the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to get Project Labor Agreements, I doubt they’ll change their position because of public outrage. It’s up to the Republican Party of San Diego County to remind voters where unions stand on Filner and urge voters to make a statement via their ballots in the 2014 and 2016 elections. In fact, the time may be right to qualify dramatic county and city ballot initiatives to end costly government policies and practices that benefit unions at the expense of everyone else.

My Article “After 33 Years, San Diego Submits to State Prevailing Wage Law” Published on www.UnionWatch.org

On July 30, I reported in www.UnionWatch.org on the 5-4 vote of the San Diego City Council to impose state prevailing wage rates on city construction contracts at After 33 Years, San Diego Submits to State Prevailing Wage Law.

News Coverage of the Vote

San Diego Passes Prevailing Wage Bill: Council votes 5-4 to expand policy to work contracts, following Filner’s lead – UT San Diego – July 31, 2013 – a follow-up to Council Approves Higher Wages for Projects: City already pays prevailing wages on big developmentUT San Diego – July 30, 2013

City Council Approves Prevailing Wage Proposal – City News Service, posted on several news web sites – July 30, 2013

City Council Passes Prevailing-Wage OrdinanceSan Diego Daily Transcript – July 30, 2013

City Costs Would Rise Under Prevailing Wage Plan: Rule would expand to all municipal projects UT San Diego – July 30, 2013

A Day to Remember, Not Fondly, at San Diego City HallUT San Diego (editorial) – August 1, 2013

Vote ‘No’ on Expanding ‘Prevailing Wage’ in San Diego – UT San Diego (editorial) – July 30, 2013

Prevailing Wage Will Force Out Small Guy; Prevailing Wage is All About Payback to Unions; Big Labor Dominates City Hall: UT San Diego (letters to the editor) – August 1, 2013

Unions Use California’s Environmental Laws to Hinder Solar Energy Projects

Here is extensive primary source evidence to show that construction trade unions are hindering solar energy projects in California with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the Power Plant Site Certification Program of the Warren-Alquist Act.

Here is a compilation of union involvement with proposed solar thermal power projects:

Did Unions Hasten Demise of California’s Solar Thermal Power Plants? – www.UnionWatch.org – July 16, 2013

Here is a compilation of union involvement with proposed solar photovoltaic power projects:

Unions Extensively Interfere with California Solar Photovoltaic Power Plant Permitting – www.UnionWatch.org – July 20, 2013

I asserted in an October 8, 2007 opinion piece in the Los Angeles Business Journal (Union Staffing Dims Market for Solar Panels) that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union “is the first and only organization in California to find staggering environmental problems with solar power. If the union can’t monopolize the construction of solar facilities it seeks to obstruct solar energy opportunities for everyone else.”

In the opinion piece, I cite an example from June 2007 of California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) filing requests as an official “intervenor” for the proposed Victorville 2 Solar Hybrid Power Plant for the applicant to provide massive amounts of data to the California Energy Commission. This was the first of 16 proposed large solar thermal power projects in California following the enactment of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

I also cite an early example from July 2007 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 100 trying to use the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to block approval of a proposed solar photovoltaic project at Fresno International Airport. This was among the first of the rush of proposed solar PV power projects following the enactment of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

Have unions continued to oppose solar power projects since then? Absolutely. My assertion about unions (especially the IBEW) acting as a chief obstacle to solar power has been confirmed.

I concluded my 2007 op-ed by declaring that state legislators and other elected officials should not allow the IBEW to interfere with the permitting of solar projects for the purpose of winning Project Labor Agreements or other union guarantees for construction and maintenance. Regrettably, the practice has continued without any serious legislative or regulatory efforts to restrict it.

My Article in www.UnionWatch.org – Finally Got It! Secret Union Deal for San Diego Convention Center

The Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction has never given up its effort to research and expose how the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council obtained a Project Labor Agreement for the $520 million San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion.

In November 2012 it obtained the settlement agreements between the unions and the City of San Diego that ended the union objections under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the union lawsuit against the financing scheme for repaying the bonds. This was reported in my November 15, 2012 blog post Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction Obtains City of San Diego Settlement Agreements with Unions for Convention Center.

My April 23, 2013 article in www.UnionWatch.org entitled Persistent Pressure Compels San Diego to Spit Out Project Labor Agreement reported on how the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction finally obtained the Project Labor Agreement negotiated between Clark Construction and the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council for the convention center expansion. It was released by the City of San Diego after the Coalition filed a lawsuit to get the union agreement and other elusive public records.

Now the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction has obtained from the City of San Diego a September 21, 2012 email from a personal Gmail account of the Chief of Staff to former Mayor Jerry Sanders. That email outlines a deal to be discussed at a 2:00 p.m. meeting that day between the mayor and Lorena Gonzalez, former head of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council and now a member of the California State Assembly.

My article Finally Got It! Secret Union Deal for San Diego Convention Center posted today (July 8, 2013) on www.UnionWatch.org describes the deal and identifies ten outrages about it.