Solano County in California Uses Erroneous Citation of State Law to Justify Project Labor Agreement

0 October 6, 2010  State & Local Construction, Uncategorized

Associated Builders and Contractors’ (ABC) government affairs staff in California knows the state’s labor laws and public contracting laws, inside and out.  So ABC representatives immediately spotted the error when they read the Solano County Department of General Services staff report for the September 28, 2010 Board of Supervisors meeting that justified the use of a PLA for the William J. Carroll Government Center.

To explain the problem in a way only a lawyer would appreciate, the county staff report cited a provision from California Public Contract Code §20133 that is no longer effective because the California Department of Industrial Relations adopted new regulations effective on August 1, 2010 pursuant to California Labor Code §1771.55(b).  Apparently county staff was unaware of the enactment of Senate Bill x2 9 in February 2009, which phased out the requirement that county governments using the design-build procurement method implement a labor compliance program (LCP) unless the county government “has entered into any collective bargaining agreement or agreements that bind all of the contractors performing work on the projects.”

This means the staff report provides NO BASIS whatever for requiring contractors to sign a project labor agreement.  It could even be an exhibit in a lawsuit to stop the PLA from being part of the bid specifications.

Nevertheless, when an ABC representative pointed out the error in the staff report during consideration of the item, no one on the Board of Supervisors seemed to care before voting 5-0 to approve the PLA.  In fact, one supervisor explained why he would be voting for the PLA by citing the exact argument in the staff report that ABC had just pointed out was erroneous!

At least the Solano County newspaper reporters attending the meeting acknowledged what ABC was saying: the article “Vacaville’s Carroll Government Center Project Has Labor Deal“ appeared in the September 29 Vacaville Reporter and the article “Board Backs Construction Policy for Carroll Center appeared in the September 29 Fairfield Daily Republic.  In addition, a letter to the editor in the October 3 Vacaville Reporter (“Supervisors’ Bad Behavior”) from someone who was apparently at the meeting described incredulously how the Board of Supervisors berated the Solano County resident and the ABC representative who spoke out against the PLA.  (The elected county supervisors were obviously putting on a show for the head of the Napa-Solano Building and Construction Trades Council, who was attending the meeting.)

The $19 million project is getting $2.2 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, also known as the stimulus package.  When ABC expressed its support for the stimulus package in January 2009, it noted favorably that “the absence of any exclusionary union-only project labor agreements in this legislation will allow ABC members and the merit shop contractors that make up over 84 percent of the construction industry the opportunity to bid on these projects on a level playing field.”  Regrettably, the PLAs are instead being imposed by the local governments receiving the stimulus grants.

Another notable irony of this PLA is that the supervisor for which the government building is named voted against negotiating a PLA ten years earlier because of the same insolent antics of the Board of Supervisors seen on September 28.  On September 26, 2000, the Solano County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to begin negotiations with the Napa-Solano Building and Construction Trades Council for a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) on the $82 million County Government Center.  The late Supervisor Bill Carroll was the ONLY supervisor to vote against the negotiations.

At this meeting, he said he supported workers’ rights to organize for better wages and benefits, but he felt “we’re a little premature” because the county had not yet even identified the funding sources for the project.  He also said the supervisors needed more of a hearing process.

The hearing was an utter disgrace.  The unions were able to make a formal presentation on PLAs and brought a board member from the fiscally irresponsible West Contra Costa Unified School District to talk about the school district’s “experiences” with PLAs and take questions from the board members.  Then the unions were able to show a propaganda video about PLAs.  Meanwhile, the opposition was limited to making remarks for three minutes during the public comment period, during which they were subjected to jeers, heckling, and profanity from the union representatives in the audience.

The other four supervisors demeaned the opponents of PLAs and were falling over themselves to demonstrate their support for unions and claim their family connections to labor unions.

No further hearings were held on the subject, regardless of what Supervisor Carroll thought about how the issue was presented to the board.

It just doesn’t seem right to salute Supervisor Bill Carroll’s courage in dissenting on this vote on September 26, 2000 by imposing a PLA on a building named for him.  But is anything right nowadays with local governments in the San Francisco Bay Area?

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