Another year brings another rush of costly union construction monopolies to K-12 school districts and community college districts in California.

Consider that voters in 2012 authorized 115 California educational districts to borrow a grand total of $15,266,651,190 ($15.3 billion) by selling bonds to investors, and you can see why schools are such an alluring target for special interest groups with special friends in elected office. (This amount does not include state matching grants to be funded from the $35.8 billion in bond sales authorized by voters in the mid-2000s.)

As readers of www.UnionWatch.org generally recognize, elected board members of K-12 and community college districts in the state’s major metropolitan areas often have political goals and ideological visions far more ambitious than simply overseeing a district that efficiently builds schools at the best price for taxpayers and students.

Educational districts are therefore typically easy pickings for union officials to lobby for Project Labor Agreements and get control of work without having to earn it.

Here are the latest setbacks for fair and open bid competition on taxpayer-funded educational construction in California:

The school board of the El Monte Union High School District is expected to vote at its March 6, 2013 meeting to require construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council in order to work on projects funded by borrowed money from Measure D, a $148 million bond measure approved by district voters in November 2008. This union deal was originally pushed in 2011 by a school board member seeking election to the California State Assembly; he ultimately dropped out of the race and resigned his board seat. For more information, see After 20 Months of Antics, Board of El Monte Union High School District Poised to Require Contractors to Sign a Project Labor Agreement.

At its February 12, 2013 meeting, the school board of the Lynwood Unified School District voted to require construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council in order to work on projects funded by borrowed money from Measure K, a $93 million bond measure barely approved by 57% of district voters in November 2012. For more information, see Lynwood Unified School District’s Bond-Funded Construction Falls to a Project Labor Agreement.

The board of the Ohlone Community College District(within the cities of Fremont, Newark, and Union City) voted on February 13, 2013 to require construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County in order to work on 16 projects or categories of projects, totaling $265 million, funded by borrowed money obtained from bond sales authorized by the $349 million Measure G, approved by district voters in November 2010. In the 2000s, the district had managed to build projects under the $150 million Measure A (approved by voters in March 2002) without a union monopoly, but the board is more enlightened now. See Another California Community College District to Give Unions a Monopoly on Bond-Funded Construction: Project Labor Agreement at Ohlone Community College District.

Some people in Solano County expected the Solano College Governing Board to waste money on union schemes and other nonsense.

On February 6, 2013, the Governing Board of the Solano Community College District heard a staff report about requiring construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the Napa-Solano Building and Construction Trades Council as a condition of working on projects funded by proceeds from $348 million in bond sales authorized in November 2012 by 63.52% of Solano County voters as Measure Q. Representatives of construction trade associations and the local Central Solano Citizen/Taxpayer Group spoke against the proposal. A vote is expected at a meeting in March. See Governing Board for Solano Community College District in California Hears Debate Over Project Labor Agreement on $348 Million Bond Measure Q.

Why are K-12 school districts and community college districts so bold about imposing these government-mandated union agreements for construction? The problem seemed to begin with the enactment of Proposition 39, a statewide ballot measure approved by 53.4% of voters in November 2000.

That statewide ballot measure reduced the vote percentage needed to pass bond measures authorizing bond sales from 66.67% (two-thirds) to 55 percent under certain conditions. It virtually guaranteed voter authorization of bond sales in the state’s major metropolitan areas and began California’s massive accumulation of debt for educational construction at the state and local levels of government.

The success rate for approval of individual bond measures in November 2012 was 86%, and the success rate for approval of the total dollar amount of proposed bond sales in November 2012 was 92%. It’s evident that voters in a general election will almost always authorize educational districts to borrow money through bond sales. Educational districts don’t need to worry about how they spend the money.

One could argue that the same lack of accountability that leads to government-mandated Project Labor Agreements is also the basis for foolish sales of Capital Appreciation Bonds, the shameless awarding of financial and service contracts to donors to bond campaigns, and the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars of borrowed money on iPads (another practice authorized by Proposition 39).

Despite valiant investigative research and reporting from new media electronic publications such as www.CalWatchdog.com, www.VoiceofSanDiego.org, www.CaliforniaWatch.org, and www.UnionWatch.org, few people know about these issues, few people understand these issues, and few people care about these issues. The taxing and spending goes on, and unions and their leadership remain primary beneficiaries.

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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