California’s quest to end global climate change is inspiring many obscure, complicated, and costly regulations. And when state executive branch agencies propose new regulations to save the planet, unions are there with their own agendas.
California Can’t Let Just Anyone Check Your Dimmer Switches
The 2013 revisions to California’s Building Energy Efficiency Standards (in the California Building Standards Code, California Code of Regulations, Title 24) include new requirements for commercial buildings to reduce electricity use through lighting controls. Examples of such controls include dimmers, automatic daylight controls, occupant sensing controls, and timers.
How does the state ensure compliance with these standards? After an electrical contractor installs these lighting control systems, a professional, certified field technician must test them and produce documentation confirming that the systems work and conform with the Building Energy Efficiency Standards.
These field technicians must be trained and certified through “Lighting Controls Acceptance Test Technician Certification Providers.” Programs interested in becoming providers submit applications to the California Energy Commission to show they fulfill the requirements to be a legitimate source of technician training and certification.
Dimmer Switches Were Supposed to Brighten the Future for Unions
Government-regulated certification can benefit the public, but it is also vulnerable to political manipulation by interest groups who see it as a mechanism to control who and how many people are employed in an occupation. For example, construction trade unions have long used the California Apprenticeship Council and other executive branch agencies to resist potential training competition from Merit Shop associations, individual contractors, and even from other unions trying to expand their trade jurisdiction.
At the California Energy Commission, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union has openly declared for years that its California Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program (CALCTP) should have a monopoly on training and certifying workers who test lighting controls for commercial buildings. As far back as November 3, 2011, the State Association of Electrical Workers/International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers submitted a letter to the California Energy Commission insisting on this monopoly:
On behalf of the State Association of Electrical Workers/International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, I write to urge the commission to require all advanced lighting controls related acceptance testing and documentation to be performed by California certified general electricians who are also certified by the California Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program (CALCTP), and who are performing the work while employed by a California contractor who holds a CALCTP contractor certification, and that these acceptance testing and documentation forms be modified by providing a space for the electrician and the contractor to each write his/her name, and to each attach a copy of their appropriate CALCTP certification documentation.
Providing studies and comments as academic cover for the CALCTP quest for a monopoly on lighting controls testing certification is the Donald Vial Center on Employment in the Green Economy, a project of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, affiliated with the University of California Center for Labor Research and Education, and part of the University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Program. This state university labor institute is a descendent of a “union think tank” established in 2000 by the California legislature and Governor Gray Davis at the behest of the California Labor Federation.
Now the IBEW has competition. A Merit Shop organization not affiliated with a union called the National Lighting Contractors Association of America (NLCAA) submitted an application to the California Energy Commission to become a Lighting Controls Acceptance Test Technician Certification Provider.
Even more shocking for the unions, the California Energy Commission placed approval of the NLCAA program on its July 22, 2014 meeting agenda – with a memorandum from the Executive Director recommending approval – while the IBEW program was still tangled up in the application process.
This echoed the outcome of previous efforts of union officials to push for regulations meant to give them control of the workforce. For example, the IBEW began a multi-year push in 1999 to impose electrician certification in California that would allow them to gain control of the trade, but it found itself outsmarted and outmaneuvered by the more nimble, more innovative Merit Shop. And while the IBEW and other unions argued for years over jurisdiction for apprenticeship training in solar photovoltaic system installation, a Merit Shop contractor circumvented the system and simply applied for and won approval from the state to operate its own solar photovoltaic installation apprenticeship program.
There Ought to Be Lawyers. Quick, Send in the Lawyers
Now the Merit Shop was outwitting the unions again. The IBEW had to suppress the competition, quickly and decisively. They turned to the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo – the law firm of choice nowadays for construction unions that use the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to delay projects as a way to pressure the owner to sign a Project Labor Agreement or agree to other economic concessions that benefit the unions.
To stop approval of the NLCAA program, the IBEW and its lawyers simply adopted the same basic strategies they use to delay projects through CEQA. They exploited the statutory provisions for public review and comment by claiming insufficient time for review. Then they submitted an extensive set of objections right at the deadline so that the agency didn’t have enough time to review them. And just like what they do with environmental review documents, they nitpicked the NLCAA application to identify and cite every possible weakness that a judge might recognize as a meritorious basis for a time-consuming, expensive lawsuit.
The saga began on July 11, 2014, when the California Energy Commission publicly posted its agenda for its July 22 meeting. It included this seemingly routine item:
11. APPROVAL OF NATIONAL LIGHTING CONTRACTORS ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA TO BECOME AN ACCEPTANCE TEST TECHNICIAN CERTIFICATION PROVIDER. Possible approval of the National Lighting Contractors Association of America (NLCAA) as a Lighting Acceptance Test Technician Certification Provider (ATTCP). This will allow NLCAA to train and certify field technicians and employers on the Building Energy Efficiency Standards lighting control acceptance tests.
On July 17, an official with the California Energy Commission contacted the Vice President of Training for the National Lighting Contractors Association of America with some bad news:
To follow up on our conversation the Standards Section 10-103-A(f)2 requires the Commission to give all interested persons a copy of the evaluation report used in your application to become a ATTCP. This Section also requires the Commission to give these interested persons reasonable time to review the evaluation.
The Business Meeting Agenda was posted on Friday July 11th in the late afternoon. The Commission received notice Friday evening from a interested person that they wanted a copy of the evaluation report.
After lengthy discussions with management, legal, and our commissioners it was determined that a reasonable amount of time could not be given to the interested persons before the July 22 Business Meeting.
For this reason your item is being taken off the July 22 Business Meeting to afford adequate time for the interested party to review NLCAA’s evaluation report.
I am sorry for any inconvenience that has caused you, your business and contractors anticipating NLCAA’s approval.
A training executive with Associated Builders and Contractors sent an email to the California Energy Commission expressing concern about this mysterious development:
NLCAA has followed and met all of the application requirements and been approved to go forward to the final requirement of the application process. Any delays in their approval will result in major negative financial impacts on our over 100 electrical contractor members, their employees and numerous other nonunion electrical contractors who need to have this certification in order to complete their current and future construction projects and meet the new state Lighting Certification requirements.
If the NLCAA’s application is removed from the Commission’s agenda, what is to stop another “interested party” from making another request to review NLCAA’s application the next time it is on the agenda, which would cause it to be removed and what would prevent this cycle from starting all over again and again and again. Anyone can review the NLCAA’s application, but these third party reviews are not an official part of the application process and should have no impact on Commission’s approval process.
As the attached documents show, Director’s Ashuckian, Oglesby and others, after a very in depth and detailed review by their respective staffs, have previously endorsed the NLCAA as meeting the state’s requirements for an ATTCP and that their application should be accepted.
It took a week for the NLCAA to be informed by the California Energy Commission of what party derailed its scheduled approval by taking advantage of regulatory provisions regarding public review. Of course, the inquiry was from the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo, which represents the California Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program (CALCTP) affiliated with the IBEW union. CALCTP scrambled to get its application posted by the California Energy Commission for public review, which happened on August 1, 2014. This began three months of antics as CALCTP lawyers and lobbyists tried to get the California Energy Commission to approve its program while rejecting the NLCAA program.
On August 19, 2014, the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo provided the California Energy Commission with several pages of petty objections to the approval of the NLCAA competing program. Obviously the IBEW was setting the stage for a lawsuit against the California Energy Commission if it approved the NLCAA program. Meanwhile, the NLCAA identified numerous petty deficiencies in the CALCTP application but chose not to stoop to the tactics of its competition by commenting on them.
Items to approve of both programs were placed on the August 27, 2014 meeting agenda of the California Energy Commission but then removed on August 26. They were not even addressed on the September 10 agenda. Then both items were placed on the October 7 agenda.
Late on the afternoon of October 6, the IBEW/NECA California State Labor Management Cooperation Committee emailed ten pages of objections to approval of the NLCAA program. In response, California Energy Commission staff advised the commissioners at the October 7 meeting to delay considering approval of the NLCAA program so they could analyze the last-minute submission of union objections to the Merit Shop program.
Commissioners chose to table approval of the NLCAA program, but to their credit they also tabled approval of the CALCTP program. Public testimony at the meeting from professional lobbyists and union officials revealed the true nature of the dispute: the IBEW believes it should control who and how many people become certified as lighting control field technicians.
Public Implications of This Obscure Battle Over the Authority to Certify Lighting Controls Testers
An ordinary California resident might ask how the people of California benefit from this union-provoked controversy about who gets to train and certify workers who test lighting control systems. Unless the programs are deficient under the state’s regulations, what is the public interest in delaying approval? Workers want to be trained, commercial building owners need to comply with the law, and climate change activists seek to reduce electricity use.
What is particularly confounding is how the state’s public utilities are connected to all of this. The CALCTP is operated by the California State Labor Management Cooperation Committee for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractors Association (LMCC/IBEW-NECA), but various entities are alleged to work in “collaboration” with it. These collaborators include Southern California Edison (SCE), Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP).
In effect, California public utilities are working with the IBEW to cut competition, restrict choice in training, and make testing of lighting controls for commercial building developers more difficult and more expensive.
Kevin Dayton is the President & 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. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.