On October 10, 2012, leaders of the Contra Costa County Building and Construction Trades Council finally succeeded in getting the Contra Costa Community College District Governing Board to implement a Project Labor Agreement acceptable to union leaders for future district construction. The vote was 3-1.

This is perhaps the longest crusade ever in California for unions to win a government-mandated Project Labor Agreement on public works construction. Union officials began targeting the district a dozen years ago, before voters authorized the sale of $120 million in bonds through the first Measure A in the March 2002 election. In anticipation of winning control of future construction at this district, the head of the Contra Costa County Building and Construction Trades Council got himself appointed to a vacant seat on the governing board in November 1999. Voters complicated his plan by soundly defeating him when he ran for election for a full term in November 2000, and unions then lacked a board majority to impose a Project Labor Agreement.

Voters narrowly authorized the sale of another $286.5 million in bonds by appoving a second Measure A in June 2006, and by September 2006, union lobbyists were demanding that the governing board require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement to work at the district. The board voted at its October 25, 2006 meeting to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement with the unions. Two years later, at its August 27, 2008 meeting, the governing board discussed its difficulties reaching an agreement suitable to both sides. At the July 27, 2011 meeting, the Contra Costa County Building and Construction Trades Council put on the pressure by presenting a draft Project Labor Agreement to the governing board, while the district staff presented a timeline of their efforts to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement with the unions. At their October 12, 2011 meeting, the governing board amended and approved a resolution directing the college chancellor to negotiate some modifications and place a Project Labor Agreement on the November 9, 2011 meeting agenda. At that meeting, the board received advice from its legal counsel and directed some more changes to be made. Finally, the community college district nailed down a Project Labor Agreement and approved it on a 3-1 vote on December 14, 2011, as governing board member Tomi Van de Brooke ramped up her campaign for Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. (She lost the race in June 2012 despite campaign support from construction trade unions.) But as bid dates for projects funded by Measure A approached during the summer of 2012, union officials wouldn’t sign the agreement; they still weren’t satisfied with the terms and conditions. Thus, the board had to approve a new, revised agreement on October 10, 2012.

Why were the votes 3-1 instead of 4-1? As an interesting side note, in March 2011, the governing board appointed the recording secretary of the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union No. 159 to the governing board. He was also a paid part-time instructor in the local plumbers’ union apprenticeship program. As the vote approached for the Project Labor Agreement, a complaint was filed with the California Fair Political Practices Commission – with ample documentation – noting that this board member had failed to file his statement of financial interests within 30 days of his appointment, and when the public requested it, he filed a statement that did not disclose income from the plumbers’ union as reported on the union’s LM-2 form. According to a January 10, 2012 press release from the Northern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, “Only the intervention of the public in exposing Robert Calone’s failure to submit a Form 700 and his failure to report his employment income prevented him from voting on a contract for which his loyalties and allegiance were divided and influenced by his paid employment as an instructor for an organization that was signatory to the contract.” (See the following documents: Complaint to FPPC with Exhibits and Response from FPPC – A Warning Letter.)

So this is how one community college district’s governing board operates.

With the fall of this district to the unions, almost every community college district in the San Francisco Bay Area now requires construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions in order to work on a taxpayer-funded project in those districts. Below is a status report:

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 Not Yet
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 Not Yet
Solano CCD (Solano County) 2003 2004
Santa Rosa Junior College (Sonoma County) 2002, 2005 Not Yet

Note that governing boards of a few community college districts in Southern California (the Los Angeles Community College District, the Riverside Community College District, and the Rancho Santiago Community College District in Orange County) have also required their construction contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions. The elected board of the Southwestern Community College District in Chula Vista voted earlier this year to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement with unions.

Why are community college districts such ripe targets for union control of taxpayer funded construction? Here are my theories:

  1. Most California voters aren’t even aware that community colleges have elected board members. There’s an obscure political vacuum to be filled by opportunistic unions and other special interests of the Left.
  2. Public accountability for board members is almost non-existent. News coverage is weak. Taxpayers are clueless, and students are too busy to focus on the elected leadership of their institution.
  3. Serving on a community college board attracts relatively erudite, ideological people who believe government and education can be useful and appropriate agents to change the world.
  4. For an ambitious politician dreaming of running for a solidly Democrat-controlled state legislative seat when the current occupant is termed out, it’s useful to show evidence of experience in education. Ambitious politicians, of course, also have to be active in enacting policies desired by the various interest groups that provide financial and organizational support in primary campaigns, including construction trade unions.
  5. People attracted to the community college board often respond to policy proposals based on emotion, feelings, and idealism – and not so much on financial analysis.
  6. The main campaign donors to community college board candidates are parties with financial interests in the district; that is, faculty unions and other unions. It’s difficult to find campaign funding for candidates who advocate fiscal responsibility.
  7. There are a lot of cultural disincentives for an advocate of minimalist government and fiscal responsibility to run for a community college board. These college districts are very political, and the political culture is very “progressive.” Boards like to pass resolutions about foreign affairs, global issues, and leftist bugaboos.

I have not heard about any plans for anyone to establish a program to recruit, train, and elect free market-oriented candidates to community college governing boards in California. Until there is an organized movement to make the government of California community college districts more fiscally responsible, college governing boards remain a welcoming place for believers in activist government to start their long and fruitful political careers in California.

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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