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Jon Fleischman

Kevin Dayton: Construction Unions Set Up State Legislature to Crush Fair and Open Competition Policies at Local Governments

[Publisher’s Note: As part of an ongoing effort to bring original, thoughtful commentary to you here at the FlashReport, I am pleased to present this column from Kevin Dayton, State Government Affairs Director for the Association Builders and Contractors of California – Flash]

Kevin Dayton

It’s the time of year for notorious “gut and amend” antics in the California State Legislature: remove the text of an innocuous bill, replace it with something controversial and divisive, and sling it through the legislative process in the last chaotic week of the session before opponents become fully activated and the public learns about the scheme.

Many leftist special interest groups find value in this anti-democratic tactic, including the California State Building and Construction Trades Council.

The Plot: Kill Off Those Pesky Policies to Protect Taxpayers from Union Monopolies

On the afternoon of Friday, September 2 – the day before Labor Day weekend – Democrat leaders in the Assembly and Senate transformed Senate Bill 922 (formerly about immunizations and tuberculosis screening) into a bill for the State Building and Construction Trades Council that suppresses and terminates local Fair and Open Competition policies for taxpayer-funded construction projects. These policies prohibit local governments from requiring their construction contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with construction trade unions.

Project Labor Agreements cut bid competition, which results in cost increases that can be 13-15 percent, as shown in a study released in July by National University in San Diego and based on extensive research on school construction in California from 1996 through 2008.

In contrast, Fair and Open Competition policies achieve the following goals, as listed in the proposed ballot measures for such policies in the City of Sacramento and County of Sacramento:

  • Offer job opportunities for contracts funded by the People to the largest possible pool of local qualified workers.
  • Maximize the number of capable and responsible bidders for contracts funded by the People.
  • Obtain the best quality work at the best price for contracts funded by the People.

Unions Are Open about the Sinister Purpose of This Gut-and-Amend Bill

The proponents’ explanation of the purpose of Senate Bill 922 is surprisingly blunt:

The need for this provision arises from a campaign by anti-union groups to obtain blanket prohibitions on project labor agreements through local charter amendments, initiatives and ordinances…Anti-union groups plan to go from locality to locality placing such blanket prohibitions on the ballot. Section 2501 would make blanket prohibitions inoperative…

It would provide that, if a charter provision, initiative or ordinance prohibits the city governing body from even considering a project labor agreement…state financial assistance may not be used for that project. This provision contains a “grandfather clause” to make in inapplicable until January 1, 2015 to charter cities that have existing, blanket bans on PLAs, thereby providing time for the repeal of those blanket bans.

Union lobbyists stuck to this theme before the Assembly Business and Professions Committee yesterday afternoon, at which Senate Bill 922 was approved on a party-line vote (Democrats in support, Republicans opposed) despite the opposition of almost a dozen speakers. This bill will likely go to Governor Brown by the end of the week for his signature.

Why Are Unions Stooping to This Level in California?

Eight local governments in California have enacted Fair and Open Competition policies to prohibit government-mandated Project Labor Agreements. Through ballot measures in 2010, voters enacted an ordinance in Chula Vista, a charter provision in Oceanside, and a charter provision in San Diego County (approved with 76% of the vote).

The Boards of Supervisors in Orange County and Stanislaus County and the Fresno City Council have enacted Fair and Open Competition ordinances. The Board of Supervisors in Placer County and the Board of Directors for the Palmdale Water District (in Los Angeles County) have enacted Fair and Open Competition policy resolutions. Right now there are several more local governments – almost all of them in highly populated jurisdictions – preparing to place their own Fair and Open Competition policies for consideration on future public meeting agendas.

Three more Fair and Open Competition measures will soon qualify for the June 2012 ballot. In fact, the Fair and Open Competition group based in San Diego just submitted its petitions to the city clerk on September 2 for an ordinance in the City of San Diego. The Fair and Open Competition group based in Sacramento is already halfway to its goals for signature collection for charter amendments in the City of Sacramento and County of Sacramento.

Crushing a Dramatic People’s Movement for Economic Freedom in California

Internal polls conducted for local Fair and Open Competition groups show California voters solidly supporting Fair and Open Competition for taxpayer-funded construction. Most Californians believe that more competition among responsible, capable bidders results in a better price for taxpayers. Without getting any hints or suggestions, voters in focus groups quickly figure out that Project Labor Agreements are a payoff to unions for campaign support.

Under these circumstances, the California State Building and Construction Trades Council feels compelled to go to the last refuge of a scoundrel – the California State Legislature – to stop this locally-inspired movement for fiscal responsibility and more job opportunities. Senate Bill 922 tries to crush a rebellion of the people against the costly and discriminatory nonsense of a self-interested special interest group.