Big Labor politics in Los Angeles was on brazen display at the San Gabriel Unified School District in the City of San Gabriel (ten miles east of downtown Los Angeles) on the evening of Wednesday, November 10.
In front of more than 100 irate local residents who packed the meeting room, the elected Governing Board for the school district voted 3-2 to require contractors to sign a project labor agreement (PLA) with unions for future taxpayer-funded construction work at the district.
The City of San Gabriel has a strong sense of community, and as anticipated in a November 9 San Gabriel Valley Tribune newspaper article (San Gabriel School Board to Vote on Union Deal), numerous citizens expressed their outrage at the meeting about how they were among the 70% of voters who in February 2008 supported Measure A, a $65 million bond funded by property taxes, but had no idea at the time that there was a secret union plot afoot to undermine the district’s ability to get the best quality construction at the best price. Numerous residents held signs calling for the recall of the three board members who supported the union agreement.
An article in the November 11 San Gabriel Valley Tribune (San Gabriel School Board Gives Nod to Union Labor Deal) accurately depicts the acrimonious atmosphere between local residents and out-of-town union representatives at the school board meeting:
Several hundred union members flocked to the board meeting held at Jefferson Middle School to stump for the union deal. Dressed in T-shirts that boasted the names of their local union halls and wearing buttons that said “Vote Yes on Jobs,” the union workers were met by angry residents who carried banners calling for a recall vote and other signs opposing the labor agreement…Almost lost in the battle between union leaders and pro-business lobbyists were San Gabriel residents. Early in the meeting, Menchaca asked residents to stand. About 100 rose. They were clearly outnumbered by union members. San Gabriel residents immediately pointed to the disparity in the numbers of attendees and reminded the board members who they serve.
Also recommending against the PLA were the district superintendent, the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee for Measure A, and Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). In addition, Kevin Korenthal, executive director of ABC – California Cooperation Committee (ABC-CCC), revealed that his organization had discovered numerous labor law violations on the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Valley Regional High School #5 in San Fernando – a project on which contractors were required to sign a PLA with unions.
Opposing the local residents at the meeting were about 25 county union leaders and the 100 union members they recruited from across Los Angeles County to support the PLA.
Board Members Scott Svonkin and Matthew Stadtler said their votes for the PLA were like a soldier at war choosing which “hill they were to die on.” They chose to side with union bosses instead of their community. Board member Philip Hu smugly corrected a newspaper article citing his $5000 in union campaign contributions, pointing out that he actually received $6000 from unions.
Meanwhile, board member Colleen Doan was able to confirm during questioning of Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council top official Richard (Dick) Slawson that contractors would have to pay “double benefits” to both union fringe benefit trust funds and their already established employee benefit funds under the PLA. Doan and Board President Denise Menchaca declared accurately that the votes of the board majority in support of the PLA were based on union campaign contributions.
Board member Scott Svonkin was already targeted earlier this year by community leaders for a recall, but the effort failed because of insufficient financial commitments. In a May 13, 2010 editorial, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported, “For months now, San Gabriel residents have been complaining of what they see as the incivility, the bullying tactics, the union shilling and the desire to get politically ahead rather than serve the parents and kids of San Gabriel Unified School District board member Scott Svonkin.” (This behavior is consistent with that of most ambitious local politicians in California who are fueling their quests for political power with the support of union bosses.)
ABC is prepared to consider financial support for any future community-organized recalls of one or more of the three union-backed board members who supported the PLA, or for a rumored community-organized effort to prohibit the San Gabriel Unified School District from being a party to contracts that require its contractors to sign PLAs.
In the meantime, please thank board members Denise Menchaca and Colleen Doan, who recognized the district’s slogan “Our Children’s Future Is Our Mission” and voted against the Project Labor Agreement at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
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