As reported over the past few months in www.UnionWatch.org, almost all of the sixteen community college districts within 50 miles of San Francisco have succumbed to the union political agenda and now require their construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with trade unions as a condition of working on taxpayer-funded projects. And unions are busy picking off the holdouts. Since the November 6, 2012 election, I’ve amended the chart (see below) to indicate the imminent end of fair and open bidding competition at the Ohlone Community College District based in Fremont and the West Valley-Mission Community College District, which includes the cities of Santa Clara, Los Gatos, Saratoga, and Monte Sereno.

I regret to report that the celebrated (but somewhat exaggerated) free choice, free mind, free market culture of Silicon Valley is about to experience another costly intrusion of government into commerce, this time for the benefit of construction unions. Through the 2000s, politically-moderate elected board members at the West Valley-Mission Community College District resisted political pressure to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement for the unions. Leading the charge to ram this union deal through the board of trustees was Chris Stampolis, a Democrat Party activist intent on advancing his own political career with the help of powerful San José union officials.

Trouble arrived soon after 60.1% of voters in the West Valley-Mission Community College District voted for Measure H in November 2004, thereby authorizing the college board to borrow $235 million for construction projects by selling bonds. In May 2005, the West Valley-Mission Community College District issued a request for proposals for construction management services that included notice of a possible Project Labor Agreement, prematurely revealing the union plan to get monopoly control of the work.

Opponents of Project Labor Agreements were ready to respond when Neil Struthers, the head of the Santa Clara-San Benito Building and Construction Trades Council, made a formal presentation during the May 17, 2007 West Valley-Mission Community College District board meeting about a Project Labor Agreement, at that time disguised as a “Construction Career Agreement.”

A majority of the board was either lukewarm or opposed to the plot of union officials and board member Chris Stampolis to give unions control of the work. Risking retaliation from powerful union interests, the San Jose/Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce issued a letter in 2008 opposing the proposed Project Labor Agreement for West Valley-Mission Community College District Project Labor Agreement. The threat faded – for a time.

In the June 2012 elections, 59.9% of voters approved Measure C, which authorized the college board of trustees to borrow another $350 million for construction by selling bonds. This time the unions and their allies had a more clever plan to get their government-mandated Project Labor Agreement for taxpayer-funded construction.

The same head construction union official made another presentation about Project Labor Agreements, this time disguised as “Promoting Local Hiring for Future Major Building Projects and Partnering to Develop Construction Industry Educational Pathways.” But this time the Project Labor Agreement presentation was scheduled as a “study session” at a May 8, 2012 “special” board meeting of the West Valley-Mission Community College District.

Notice that the board meeting notice that West Valley-Mission Community College District posted on its web site for the May 8, 2012 special meeting does not include any background information about this special agenda item, perhaps because only ONE side was studied during the so-called study session. Also notice that the West Valley-Mission Community College District failed to post the minutes of this May 8, 2012 special meeting on its web site.

Lessons:

(1) Just because a government entity is based in Silicon Valley doesn’t mean it is diligent or committed to transparency by opening its most controversial business to public scrutiny on the web. Union deals are best done when the taxpayers don’t know about it.

(2) Regarding community colleges, is there any other class of local government in California that manages so much money but has so little accountability to the People? Three times I’ve seen a one-sided, Project Labor Agreement presentation from union officials and their attorneys scheduled for a “special” community college board meeting, with the minutes of this “special” meeting somehow slipping through the cracks and not getting posted on the web for public scrutiny, as is done with the minutes of the regular meetings.

There’s a lot of strange antics still going on at West Valley-Mission Community College District board meetings. At the October 2, 2012 meeting, board member Chris Stampolis again called for discussion of a Project Labor Agreement at a future meeting. Then, at the October 14, 2012 meeting, Stampolis demanded that the minutes be changed regarding his comments on the Project Labor Agreement. He wanted the minutes to state his call for discussion at an October meeting, not a future meeting.

Finally, Chris Stampolis is getting his way. At tomorrow night’s meeting (November 13, 2012), the board of the West Valley-Mission Community College District is scheduled to give direction to the college administration about preparations to impose a Project Labor Agreement on the district’s construction contractors. Mr. Stampolis is obviously emboldened by the November 6 exercise of union political might in California and his own victory in the race for board of trustees of the Santa Clara Unified School District (where he’ll likely push for another Project Labor Agreement in that district to cover construction funded by three bond measures.) He wants to get this Project Labor Agreement in place at the West Valley-Mission Community College District before he leaves for new ambitions, and his proposed directive calls for the college administration to provide a final report on Project Labor Agreements at the December 11, 2012 board meeting.


Here’s the current status of Project Labor Agreements for community college districts in the San Francisco Bay Area:

Community College District (CCD) Year as PLA Target Year of PLA Enacted
Peralta CCD (Alameda County) 2004 2004, 2009
Chabot-Las Positas CCD (Alameda County) 2003 2006, 2010
Ohlone CCD (Alameda County) 2002, 2011 Looks like 2012
Contra Costa CCD (Costa Costa County) 2000 2012
College of Marin (Marin County) 2005 2008
Hartnell CCD (Monterey County) 2004 2004; rescinded 2004
Monterey Peninsula College Not Yet Not Yet
Napa Valley College (Napa County) 2004 Not Yet
City College of San Francisco (San Francisco) 2002 2005
San Mateo CCD (San Mateo County) 2002 2002, 2007
Cabrillo College (Santa Cruz, San Benito, Monterey Counties) 2004 Not Yet
Foothill-DeAnza CCD (Santa Clara County) 2007 2008, 2011
San Jose-Evergreen CCD (Santa Clara County) 2006 2011
West Valley-Mission CCD (Santa Clara County) 2005, 2008, 2012 Looks like 2012
Solano CCD (Solano County) 2003 2004
Santa Rosa Junior College (Sonoma County) 2002, 2005 Not Yet

See my www.UnionWatch.org analysis of why California’s community college districts are inclined to require construction contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions:  Unions Increase Control of California’s Community College Boards.

Kevin Dayton is the President and CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com.

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