On May 27, KNSD Channel 7/39 News in San Diego (an NBC affiliate) showed a three-minute story on Proposition G, the voter initiative on the June 8 ballot in the City of Chula Vista to prohibit the city from entering into contracts that require contractors to sign project labor agreements (PLAs). The story was also posted on the news program’s web site as “Dollars Fly in Prop. G Fight.”
Of significant note is a statement 45 seconds into this story made by Steve Padilla, an appointed member of the Board of Port Commissioners for the Unified Port of San Diego. Padilla declared “If there were a similar proposition in the City of San Diego a few years ago, Petco Park may never have been built.”
With this allegation, Mr. Padilla hit squarely upon the primary inspiration for the enacted and proposed ordinances in San Diego County to prohibit local governments from requiring contractors to sign project labor agreements. Let’s focus on the reprehensible abuses of just one specific construction union based in San Diego: the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 569.
In the summer of 1999, the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo based in South San Francisco submitted objections on behalf of the IBEW Local 569 to the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for the San Diego Padres ballpark (now known as Petco Park).
On January 14, 2000, union officials, Padres executives, and various local politicians held a press conference to announce the signing of a project labor agreement for ballpark construction. An article in the January 15, 2000 San Diego Union-Tribune reported the following:
The agreement puts to rest any doubts that one union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, was not fully on board the ballpark bandwagon. In July 1999, that union briefly became the sharpest critic of the project, raising written objections that carried the implicit threat of a lawsuit.
At the time, [Padres Executive Vice President Jack] McGrory, then chief executive of Price Enterprises, a San Diego-based real estate investment trust, said the move was “leverage” designed to force a project-labor agreement.
Yesterday, McCrory said the union dropped its objections because its environmental concerns were answered by city officials and because it saw the Padres were serious about reaching a project-labor agreement.
It was a classic case of environmental permit extortion, or greenmail: the union exploitation of environmental laws to block construction of a proposed project until the applicant agrees to labor agreements unrelated to the environment. In the case of the Padres ballpark, the developer surrendered to the union extortion and signed the PLA.
The IBEW Local 569 in San Diego has no moral qualms about greenmail. In the union’s May 1999 newsletter, the business manager bragged about how construction union officials and their lawyers coerced merchant power plant developers to sign PLAs against their will:
On Friday, April 30 I got the word that the High Desert Power Plant Project has agreed to ALL of our agreements. If you read in the past Transmitters, I told you that Constellation Energy (the developer) vowed that they would NEVER sign our agreements and would fight us all the way. We accepted their challenge and after being held back for almost 2 years, they’ve decided that it is much better to work with CURE.
CURE stands for California Unions for Reliable Energy, a construction union-backed entity represented by the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo that intervenes in the California Energy Commission licensing process and uses various tactics to delay state approval when an applicant for an energy project is unwilling to sign a PLA.
I saw the tactics of the IBEW Local 569 firsthand on August 12, 2004, when the San Diego Planning Commission was considering a union appeal of a development agency’s decision to approve a 33-story building in downtown San Diego. An attorney for Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo made a presentation alleging numerous environmental problems that required further investigation. In response, various association representatives and I spoke on how this appeal was really union greenmail designed to extort the developer into a PLA.
An IBEW organizer then claimed that its appeal was “very much an environmental issue” and explained how much union members care about the environment. One commissioner noted how this was the first project she had seen in which the IBEW had challenged the approval. “What is the threshold that makes this project different than the others?” she asked. The organizer wouldn’t answer, of course, and the lawyer claimed they had just discovered how projects were being approved in San Diego without adequate environmental review. As reported in the August 12 San Diego Daily Transcript (“Union’s Appeal of CCDC Project Rejected, 4/12/04”), the appeal was rejected 7-0.
When the IBEW Local 569 and other construction unions attempted the same stunt in 2007 against a proposed hotel and convention center in Chula Vista, the developer Gaylord Entertainment refused to succumb to the extortion. Instead, it revealed to the public that it was the victim of extortion and ultimately released a letter explaining that it was withdrawing from the project because of union threats to block the project with environmental objections until their demands were met.
No wonder the organizer and political director for the IBEW Local 569 has declared that the accomplishment she is proud of was kicking Gaylord Entertainment out of Chula Vista. “I believe we sent a strong message about the power and commitment of San Diego’s electrical workforce with the Gaylord campaign” she says. Note that union power supersedes concerns such as economic growth, job creation, and the rebirth of polluted bayfront property.
How could any voter that knows about these four incidents NOT vote for a proposition that undermines this cynical manipulation of the state’s environmental laws? At the most basic level Proposition G in the City of Chula Vista is about protecting taxpayers, project investors, and the public from being victimized by union abuse of power.