There are few reports available that summarize how local governments across the United States are responding to the challenging economic and political circumstances of the last two years, but we at TheTruthAboutPLAs.com have been tracking the not-altogether-unexpected reaction at local governments in California. Considering the reputation of California as a state where government fiscal irresponsibility and mismanagement are commonplace, it is no surprise that the misguided solution of many of its elected officials to high employment and tepid economic growth is to deprive taxpayers from getting the best quality public works construction at the best price.
Since 1993, when the modern manifestation of project labor agreements (PLAs) as a market recovery tool for unions began after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Boston Harbor decision, ABC of California and its coalition partners fought an average of two to four local government efforts per year to require contractors to sign project labor agreements to work on a construction project or group of projects. There was one noticeable uptick in PLA activity in 2004, the year after the October 2003 recall of Governor Gray Davis and replacement with Arnold Schwarzenegger, but generally the disease was kept in check through vigilance and a lingering notion or legacy among most local elected officials that fiscal responsibility was a desirable trait.
Things are different now that 35 percent of construction workers in California have reportedly lost their jobs since 2006. Since the November 2008 election, 25 local governments in California have considered or began considering Project Labor Agreements – an unprecedented number by far for any year in the state. Thirteen of these local governments have implemented PLAs, while five have voted against or abandoned the proposals. One local government voted against a PLA for a project but then voted for a PLA on the same project at a subsequent special meeting two weeks later. Three local governments have voted to negotiate PLAs and five local governments are on the verge of approving negotiations for PLAs.
There has also been a counter-reaction. One local government has banned PLAs, and PLA bans are currently in the works at four local governments. A union attempt to repeal the existing PLA ban at one local government was subsequently abandoned.
Government-Mandated PLA Activity in California
November 4, 2008 (Election Day) to February 1, 2010
PLA Bans – Implemented
- Orange County – Ordinance Prohibiting PLAs
PLA Bans Publicly Under Consideration
- City of Chula Vista – Ballot initiative qualified to prohibit PLAs with ordinance
- City of Oceanside – Ballot initiative qualified to prohibit PLAs with charter provision
- City of San Diego – Ballot initiative – signatures being collected to prohibit PLAs through charter amendment
- City of Roseville – Charter Review Commission does not recommend charter amendment banning PLAs but recommends to city council that it ban PLAs via ordinance
Repeal of PLA Ban Proposed, but Abandoned
- City of Fresno – Ordinance Prohibiting PLAs
PLAs Proposed but Not Implemented
- Del Norte Unified School District – future school construction
- Mendocino-Lake Community College District – Measure W
- San Diego County Regional Airport Authority – Terminal 2 Expansion
- Northern California Power Authority – Lodi Energy Center power plant (first vote)
- Imperial County – Green Retrofit and Workforce Development Program
- City of Palmdale – municipal solar hybrid power plant (to avoid union “greenmail”/environmental permit extortion)
- John Swett Unified School District – Measure A
- San Mateo Union High School District – half of Measure M
- San Diego Unified School District – Proposition S (two versions)
- City of Brentwood – civic center
- Alum Rock Union Elementary School District – Measure G
- Fremont Union High School District – All Outdoor Athletic Facilities
- Hayward Unified School District – Measure I
- Solano County – 321 Tuolumne Street/Solano Justice Center and 355 Tuolumne Street renovation (exempt projects from $10 million threshold in county PLA policy)
- Peralta Community College District – Berkeley City College Build-Out, Phase 2
- Sacramento City Unified School District – All Projects More than $1 Million – Four-Year Renewal
- Northern California Power Authority – Lodi Energy Center power plant (second vote) (to avoid union “greenmail”/environmental permit extortion)
- City of Vallejo – Vallejo Station Parking Structure, Phase A
PLAs – Negotiations Approved
- Centinela Valley Union High School District – Measure CV
- Riverside Community College District – remainder of Measure C
- City of Long Beach – Airport Modernization
PLAs Under Consideration – Vote for Negotiations Imminent
- Port of Los Angeles – All Work
- Port of Long Beach – Middle Harbor Redevelopment Project
- Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation District – Gold Line Extension
- Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) – Corporation Yard
- San Joaquin-Delta Community College District – remainder of Measure L
Is this explosion of PLAs a sign that local elected officials are sensing growing political and economic power for construction trade unions in California? This seems unlikely, considering that construction unions are racked by internal squabbles and are hobbled by 30-40 percent unemployment and hopelessly underfunded benefit programs.
It’s more likely that local elected officials figure that unions have and will support their future political campaigns while voters will never make them accountable for manipulating government policies for the benefit of one special interest group. Without question, forgotten in the push for 25 PLAs since the November 2008 elections is the perspective of the people who have to pay for public works construction – the taxpayers.