Rarely mentioned in public policy discussions about Project Labor Agreements are the moral implications of using the government as an agent to prod contractors and their employees into union agreements.
Is it right for a government to require contractors to make employee fringe benefit payments to union-managed trust funds and obtain their workers from a union hiring hall? What kind of thinking leads a representative of the People to require workers to pay initiation fees and dues to a union as a condition of working on a public project? What kind of community leader wants to build four taxpayer-funded schools for the cost of five, in order to curry favor with a special interest group?
Project Labor Agreements are associated with fiscal irresponsibility and mismanagement, internal corruption, and lack of accountability to the people who pay taxes for the government to provide services. Citizens abdicate their responsibilities to oversee their local governments. As a result, unions fill the resulting political vacuum and attract ambitious people who see unions as a vehicle to attain personal power and position.
Arguments based on reason and common sense have no power in this kind of environment, where only scandals earn public attention.
Today’s Exhibit A is the City of San Fernando, near Los Angeles.
The City of San Fernando was the first municipality in California to require a PLA for all public works projects. On September 19, 2005, the San Fernando City Council voted 5-0 to require all construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions for prime contracts worth $150,000 or more and specialty contracts worth $25,000 or more. These project cost thresholds are unusually low, indicating that representatives of the city made little effort to engage in credible negotiations with union leaders to develop the PLA.
Voting for the PLA in 2005 were council members Julie Ruelas, Nury Martinez, Steven Veres, José Hernández, and Maribel De La Torre. So what happened to them?
San Fernando voters recalled José Hernández and Julie Ruelas on January 13, 2009.
Nury Martinez was elected in 2009 to the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District, with endorsements from the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building & Construction Trades Council and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
Steven Veres was elected in 2011 to the board of the Los Angeles Community College District, with endorsements from the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building & Construction Trades Council and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
Only Maribel De La Torre remains on the San Fernando City Council. At the November 21, 2011 city council meeting, she was entangled in a spectacle that is bizarre, even by California standards.
Meanwhile, the city continues to require its contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement to work on taxpayer-funded city construction. Business as usual.
Postscript: Today’s Exhibit B on Project Labor Agreements and Moral Breakdown…
Inquiry Targets Two Contractors on L.A. Community Colleges Project – Los Angeles Times – December 1, 2011
“The D.A.’s probe centers on Los Angeles Community College District allegations that the firms submitted fraudulent billings for Mission College work, part of a $5.7-billion construction program.”