West Sacramento School District Uses Union-Only Apprenticeship Policy to Boot Lease-Leaseback Contractor

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Tonight (April 23, 2015), the board of trustees for the Washington Unified School District (in West Sacramento) will reject a construction company from a lease-leaseback contract because unions will not agree to dispatch apprentices to the company.

The staff report for “Adopt Resolution 1415-22 for the Bryte Career Technical Education Campus Phase #1 Project (Implement the Capital Investment Program for Sustainability Initiatives / Facility Improvements through Measure V Funds)” states the following:

Bid #3, Landmark Construction, was highest bid by almost $1,000,000 (17%). Bidder #1 and #2, the point spread between them was significant (10%) and after the formal interviews the team felt that the best value of the three (3) submittals received was from Bobo Construction (bidder #2). The team began contract negotiations with Bobo Construction to finalize a lease lease-back (LLB) document. Unfortunately, during contract negotiations it was determined that the District’s pre-apprenticeship requirements could not be met by Bobo Construction. As a result, the team is reaching out to Landmark Construction in an effort to negotiate and finalize a contract.

At various times over the past 15 years, construction trade unions have lobbied Northern California local governments for local apprenticeship policies that supplant existing state law. Of course those self-interested policies are meant to cut bid competition and limit workers’ freedom of choice in training programs.

Those policies have been rejected by elected boards at some local governments and passed by others, often after amendments. But until now there has not been a high-profile case in which a construction company lost a major project because of such a policy.

The Washington Unified School District board of trustees quietly passed the union-backed apprenticeship policy in November 2013 that requires all contractors to obtain apprentices from union-affiliated programs. Now unions have been able to use this policy as the basis to get the school district to deprive a Merit Shop construction company of a contract. This action raises the cost of the project by $1 million (17%).

Here is the discriminatory policy: Washington Unified School District Resolution #1314-10 – Resolution Establishing Apprenticeship Graduation and Local Hire Requirements for Hiring on School Construction Projects.

For details, see the email below from the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction to the elected board and administrators of the Washington Unified School District.

From: “Eric Christen”
Date: April 23, 2015 at 9:40:01 AM PDT

Board of Trustees,

As your staff and legal counsel have been unresponsive to our earlier email I am now forwarding this issue on to you.

The Washington Unified School District has implemented illegal pre-qualification requirements and is arbitrarily using these requirements to favor certain construction contractors, certain state-approved apprenticeship programs, and certain apprentices at the expense of others.

On April 21, 2015, the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction (CFEC) learned that your selected (but not contracted) lease-leaseback contractor Bobo Construction will not be working on the district’s Bryte Culinary Arts project or on the District Office project. The vague reason given by a district consultant for this decision: “During contract negotiations, it was determined that the District’s Apprenticeship requirements could not be met by Bobo Construction.”

We inquired with Bobo Construction representatives, who informed us they left voice mails and sent emails to the Washington Unified School District asking specifically what requirements it did not meet, how the district determined that it could not meet the requirements, and who determined it could not meet the requirements. Suspiciously but not surprisingly, there has been no official response from the school district.

This unusual and disturbing incident, based on both the current situation and previous attempts to discriminate against non-signatory firms using similar tactics leads us to conclude that unions have engineered this latest episode so as to benefit its members. We will be submitting a public records request to confirm the involvement of union officials in these discussions leading to this decision and to determine specifically why the district ceased communication with Bobo Construction.

Bobo Construction had submitted a pre-qualification questionnaire and was approved and deemed eligible to work on these projects. It also submitted bids by the deadline. We will be checking on this to ensure Bobo Construction complied with every requirement.

Bobo Construction representatives say they typically request Carpenters and Laborers apprentices from the state-approved unilateral apprenticeship programs operated by the Northern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). These programs are approved by the California Division of Apprenticeship Standards to train apprentices on public works projects in Yolo County.

But the Washington Unified School District insists in its regulations that its contractors have to request and train apprentices exclusively from programs overseen by Joint Apprenticeship Training Committees (JATCs) affiliated with trade unions. Unilateral (union-free) apprenticeship programs are not regarded as eligible or legitimate training programs. The attached resolution, that the board approved in November of 2013, is where this language comes from.

Apprentices in these JATC programs pay union dues and fees and their fringe benefits indicated in prevailing wage determinations are paid into union-affiliated trust funds. The district’s decision to only accept apprentices from those programs is clearly favoritism for union apprentices, for union-affiliated apprenticeship programs overseen by Joint Apprenticeship Training Committees, and for construction companies that have agreements to train through union-affiliated apprenticeship programs overseen by Joint Apprenticeship Training Committees.

Nevertheless, to try to keep the peace and comply with this illegal requirement, Bobo Construction contacted representatives of the Carpenters and Laborers unions to arrange for a one-job subscription agreement to use union apprentices on Washington Unified School District projects. By refusing to arrange such agreements (an illegal action), these union officials disqualified Bobo Construction.

Basically, the Washington Unified School District has given union officials the power to decide which contractors get construction contracts at the district. Unions – not contractors – have the authority to dispatch apprentices. A union apprenticeship program can withhold its apprentices from being dispatched to any contractor (including a union contractor) and thus disqualify it.

Subcontractors for Bobo Construction are now reportedly being told that Bobo Construction was “kicked off the job” because it was non-union, and anyone wanting to work at the district better be unionized. Reportedly union officials had been lobbying the elected board of trustees and district administrators and contractors to deny the work to Bobo Construction. We will be submitting a public records request to confirm the extent of these communications.

The Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction is committed to ensuring that all capable and responsible bidders and their capable and qualified workers are able to work on taxpayer-funded construction projects. Following are the next steps we will be taking to ensure that all contractors, workers, and apprentices are treated equally and fairly:

Submission of the aforementioned public record request the goal of which is twofold: Show who in 2013 gave you the discriminatory language you voted to approve and secondly, what special interests have been involved in seeing that Bobo Construction was rejected in favor of a signatory firm whose bid was $1 MILLION HIGHER.

Undertake a public relations campaign to inform community leaders, the general public, and area media about how staff and elected officials of the Washington Unified School District are breaking the law and manipulating the district’s bidding process to raise construction costs and benefit union special interests. Your decision to choose Landmark Construction over Bobo alone will cost the District $1 million!

We will be researching the origin of this discriminatory apprenticeship requirement(s) and will expose it to the public.

Should this issue not be resolved by the board at your meeting tonight (April 23rd) we will recommend that Bobo Construction file a lawsuit against the Washington Unified School District over its patently illegal apprenticeship requirements.

Finally, a stench of corruption envelopes this entire process. CFEC has been protecting the rights of contractors, workers, and apprentices in California for almost 16 years and I have never seen such a blatant political power play as I have witnessed in the past few days. CFEC will do everything within its considerable resources to see to it that whomever is behind this attempt to play favorites using taxpayer dollars will be held accountable to the people for those actions, especially if public records or other documents unearthed in various stages of litigation reveal what the District has done in pursuit of political ambition.

In conclusion, we encourage you to work with Bobo Construction, which is a well-established company willing to resolve reasonable differences in order to perform the outstanding work that your district expects. The alternative is getting to deal instead with this organization, exceptional for its zeal to expose the bidding corruption eroding many school districts in California.

We look forward to hearing that Bobo Construction is back performing the best work at the best price for the taxpayers and students of the Washington Unified School District. We also look forward to hearing that the Washington Unified School District will no longer implement illegal policies that favor unionized contractors, unionized apprenticeship programs, and unionized apprentices. It’s not necessary, it’s wrong, it’s not desired by the public, and it’s illegal.

You are encouraged to contact me at xxx or xxx.

Eric Damian Christen
Executive Director
Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction

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