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Kevin Dayton

California High-Speed Rail Authority Keeps Union Deal Out of Public Forums

California High-Speed Rail Through Kings County

California High-Speed Rail through Kings County

Critics of the California High-Speed Rail often claim that deliberations and decisions of the Board of Directors and staff of the California High-Speed Rail Authority betray how “the entire process lacks public transparency and accountability.”

It does seem true that some important decisions about the high-speed rail project occur without public notice.

Any interested member of the public diligently scrutinizing board agendas and attending meetings of the Board of Directors would never know that all construction companies working on the first segment of the high-speed rail line from Madera through Fresno will be required to sign a Project Labor Agreement (disguised under the term “Community Benefits Agreement”) with unions in the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California.

Nor would that person ever know that the California High-Speed Rail Authority needs to get permission from the Federal Railroad Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation to require its contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for this federally-funded project.

(Shhh! These are secrets – don’t tell anyone who might use this information to undermine The Vision that is the California High-Speed Rail project.)

Why didn’t the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors include discussion or a vote on their Project Labor Agreement (excuse me, “Community Benefits Agreement”) on one of their meeting agendas?

Perhaps it was assumed that former California High-Speed Rail Authority board member Bob Balgenorth – at the time the head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California – would have graciously told board members and staff if the Project Labor Agreement developed for his organization was worthy of board discussion and a vote before the public.

This would be a mistaken assumption.

California High-Speed Rail through Kings County

California High-Speed Rail through Kings County

The public would have been quite interested in speaking against this proposed union agreement. Consider the aggressive and widespread opposition in the Central Valley to a proposed (but ultimately abandoned) Project Labor Agreement for the construction of the new campus of the University of California at Merced in the first half of the 2000s.

It’s more likely that the California High-Speed Rail Authority didn’t want its public meetings to serve as a forum for a contentious battle over its decision to impose a union monopoly. That would distract from The Vision.

And why hasn’t the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors discussed and voted on approving a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration? That letter is supposed to include a detailed explanation of how the government-mandated Project Labor Agreement on this federally-funded construction project advances the government interest and conforms to federal law. Surely some members of the public would have liked to analyze those claims and speak on them.

In fact, did the Authority ever send that letter? This remains unknown to the public.

(Shhh! Don’t tell anyone about the letter. Someone might ask for it through a Public Records Act request and discover it was forgotten. Just hope no one looks too closely at the bid specifications for the Madera-Fresno segment, because it says in Section 7.11.3 of the Request for Proposal for Design-Build Services for the first segment of the California High-Speed Rail project that the winning bidder has to comply with the Project Labor Agreement, subject to FRA [Federal Railroad Administration] approval…)

The California High-Speed Rail Authority is trying to fend off an increasingly disillusioned public, news media that is persistently asking about funding commitments, a hostile majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Central Valley farmers who now have few options to avoid the Partition of the Family Land.

It’s hard to believe that in November 2008, 52.7% of California voters (and 78.4% of San Francisco voters) voted for Proposition 1A and authorized the state to borrow $9,950,000,000 for construction of high-speed rail by selling bonds to investors, to be paid back with interest.

Maybe the California High-Speed Rail Authority is keeping items off its agenda to give Californians a rest, so they can start focusing on their big responsibility of paying back the principal and interest on those bonds, a total of $19,418,000,000 to $23,195,000,000. (Not $9.95 billion – you need to add the interest.)

At all costs, the Authority seems determined to avoid public hearings on union monopolies that can be exploited by the aggressive and persistent grassroots coalitions that undermined the planned union monopoly on construction of the UC Merced campus.

The best strategy for the California High-Speed Rail Authority to deal with pesky advocates for fiscal responsibility is to marginalize them and restrict their access to documents and decisions.

Leave them to fiddle around with their web sites, such as

Kevin Dayton is the President and CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at