January 8, 2014
Board of Supervisors
County of Sonoma
575 Administration Drive, Room 100 A
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
You are once again considering a policy to require companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement with trade unions as a condition of working under a County construction or construction-related professional services contract for projects with a cost threshold above a certain amount. Both supporters and opponents of this Project Labor Agreement policy acknowledge this policy will change the composition of the County of Sonoma's construction contract workforce.
Unions will gain a significant degree of control over the hiring and referral of construction trade workers and construction-related professional service workers to contractors on larger County construction projects after the County adopts the Project Labor Agreement policy. Companies that sign the policy will have to obtain their trade workers (both journeymen and apprentices) through union hiring hall dispatching procedures referred to in the Project Labor Agreement and elaborated in Master Labor Agreements and other union administrative documents and unwritten practices for each individual trade.
As a result of these changes, significantly more construction workers are likely to commute into Sonoma County via such "back roads" as Lakeville Highway, thus creating an adverse impact on traffic and air quality. The County has overlooked statutes and guidelines of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and failed to consider how the Project Labor Agreement policy will cause either a direct physical change in the environment or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment. Nor has it considered feasible alternatives to the Project Labor Agreement policy that would avoid complications to current traffic patterns or increases in greenhouse gas emissions.
To determine and mitigate these impacts and allow for legitimate consideration of alternatives, the County is required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to prepare an Environmental Impact Report.
The County Recognizes an Environmental Impact, But Its Assumptions Are Wrong
A staff report on the Project Labor Agreement policy for the September 18, 2012 Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting contended that a Project Labor Agreement policy would have an environmental impact. It claimed that Project Labor Agreements would "help create a sustainable economy" and would be "aiding the County's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
However, the County did not cite any evidence to support this finding. The claim lacked substance and was not based on scientific or factual evidence. No explanation was provided about how union hiring and referral procedures work in practice. No data was presented about who works on county contracts or how many active construction trade workers living in Sonoma County are members of a union or represented by a union. No studies were cited showing the composition of the Sonoma County construction workforce or of the County of Sonoma construction contract workforce.
County of Sonoma staff and elected Board of Supervisors have depended on the unsubstantiated opinion and narrative of union representatives and lobbyists as a basis for evaluating the actual impacts of the Project Labor Agreement policy. This is not responsible environmental analysis.
Assumptions about local hiring and Project Labor Agreements are often wrong. For example, on February 24, 2010, a committee of the San Diego City Council directed the city attorney to develop a local hiring policy that would encourage contractors to have 70 percent of employees on city construction projects as residents of San Diego County. Union officials declared that the policy that could meet this goal would be a Project Labor Agreement. But certified payroll records analyzed by city staff showed that about 90 percent of workers on city construction projects covered by prevailing wage in 2009 were already residents of San Diego County. The Project Labor Agreement policy would have encouraged a goal that would have reduced local hiring, perhaps to accommodate large union geographical jurisdictions and the status of travelers. In the end, the proposal was not enacted.
It is reasonable to assume that the County of Sonoma Project Labor Agreement policy will have a significant adverse effect on the environment in Sonoma County - hindering a sustainable economy and increasing greenhouse gas emissions through more commuting traffic. In its opening brief submitted to the California Supreme Court in State Building and Construction Trades Council v. City of Vista, the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California states that "construction workers today routinely commute to projects outside the cities in which they happen to live" and "it is not uncommon for today's construction workers to commute more than 100 miles to work at a job site."
This is presumably the true nature of union construction under a Project Labor Agreement policy. Newspaper stories and newsletter articles about construction projects in the San Francisco Bay Area covered by a Project Labor Agreement frequently identify workers as residents of the Central Valley. It's likely that a substantial percentage of union workers on Sonoma County projects are actually residents of Solano County and Contra Costa County.
Union Hiring and Referral Procedures
Through its proposed Project Labor Agreement policy, the County of Sonoma is regulating the activities of private individuals, corporations, and public agencies. Up to this time, many of the County's construction contractors have hired and assigned their employees to projects using hiring and evaluation procedures traditionally practiced in most industries. But under the Project Labor Agreement policy, the County's construction contractors will obtain and retain their employees based on specific conditions outlined in the Project Labor Agreement, supplemented by formal and informal union hiring and referral procedures.
Based on an perusal of lists of bidders and their subcontractors on recent County projects, there is a substantial presence of construction companies in Sonoma County that are not signatory to any agreements with a union or are signatory to agreements with unions that only represent a portion of their trade employees. As shown by the aggressive opposition to the Project Labor Agreement policy from construction trade associations and individual company representatives in Sonoma County, most of these companies will not bid on projects for which the contract specifications require the company to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions.
Background material about the proposed policy provided by staff to the elected Board of Supervisors does not give the board or the public an explanation of union hiring, referral, and retention procedures or how these procedures are implemented in actual practice. What are the characteristics of the pool of workers that will be discouraged or ineligible for employment on County projects under this policy? What are the characteristics of the pool of workers that will now have greater chances of employment on County projects under this policy?
Considerations for the County of Sonoma in Evaluating Environmental Impacts
Below is a list of information that Sonoma County properly and legally needs to obtain as it studies the potential for direct or reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment as a result of the proposed Project Labor Agreement policy:
- The number or percentage of construction trade workers on recent Sonoma County projects who are permanent residents of Sonoma County. The County cannot assume that this policy has no measurable impact on the environment (or will even "help create a sustainable economy") if it doesn't have any baseline statistics.
- The number or percentage of construction trade workers on recent Sonoma County projects who are permanent residents of Sonoma County and were represented by a union during that time of employment.
- The number or percentage of construction trade workers on recent Sonoma County projects who are permanent residents of Sonoma County and were not represented by a union during that time of employment. Based on the published membership of construction trade associations, it seems that Sonoma County is home to a substantial number of medium-sized non-union subcontractors that perform public works construction on building structures, as well as a few large and some medium-sized non-union general contractors that perform public works construction on building structures. These companies are likely to have a workforce that substantially lives in Sonoma County.
- The total number or percentage of construction trade workers who are permanent residents of Sonoma County and who are employed by construction companies that are bound to a collective bargaining agreement with trade unions.
- The number or percentage of construction trade workers who are permanent residents of Sonoma County and who are employed by construction companies that are not bound to a collective bargaining agreement with trade unions.
- The number of construction workers in each specific construction trade who are permanent residents of Sonoma County and are members of a union and are also actively working or seeking work through the union hiring halls.
- The geographical jurisdictions of the construction trade unions that will be dispatching workers to construction companies performing contract work for the county under the terms and conditions of the Project Labor Agreement.
- The specific procedures and policies used by the applicable construction trade unions to dispatch workers to construction companies under the Project Labor Agreement. For example, which workers get priority in dispatch? Will unions scramble their lists to favor a Sonoma County resident, as a result unfairly bypassing a Marin County resident who was rightfully at the top of the waiting list for dispatch? That seems unlikely. Note that a Project Labor Agreement can only set goals for local hiring - it can't require local hiring.
- The likelihood that a worker who is "hired through a Sonoma County-based hiring hall" is necessarily going to be a resident of Sonoma County. Union general contractors and subcontractors that perform public works building construction often have large market regions that encompass the entire San Francisco Bay Area. Even the staff report for the Project Labor Agreement policy acknowledges that "The disadvantage of limiting Core Workers is that a local contractor may be required to use workers dispatched through the hall that are not actually county residents."
- The likely bidders for the next round of County projects to which this policy will apply. How many prospective bidders for this work are based in Sonoma County? Which electrical contractors are likely to bid on it, etc.?
- The number of workers by trade needed for the next round of County projects to which this policy will apply and the amount of working days anticipated for these workers. Is there going to be a caravan driving up from Fairfield every morning? Will the unions provide buses?
- The likelihood that the Project Labor Agreement policy increase traffic and greenhouse gas emissions more for some trades than other trades. It is absurd to make blanket statements about the construction workforce as a whole. It appears that some trades - such as Ironworker - are dominated by union workers, while other trades such as Painter seem to be dominated by non-union workers. Note that there is one Ironworker collective bargaining agreement and one prevailing wage determination for the entire state, which suggests that workers can travel for work within a large jurisdiction. Painters who work in Sonoma County presumably are more likely to actually live in Sonoma County.
- Accurate membership numbers for unions. Numbers cited by unions at public meetings and in letters are often deceptive and need to be thoroughly analyzed by the county. Some trade unions represent public employees as well as - or rather than - building trade workers who are dispatched to construction contractors. Also, just because someone paid union dues in the previous year doesn't necessarily mean that person is available for work in the area. A distinction also needs to be made between active members and retirees.
How Can the County Prepare an Accurate Environmental Impact Report?
1. Obtain Master Labor Agreements and administrative policies of each trade union that thoroughly define the geographical jurisdiction of the union and the dispatching process for its members and workers represented by the union who are not members. How are they classified in various priorities for dispatch to a job site? Are there "books" such as Book 1, Book 2, Book 3, etc.? Such information could be presented in this way:
2. Consult U.S. Department of Labor LM-2s and IRS Form 990s to determine active membership of each union that would sign any Project Labor Agreement under the County policy. Unions should provide more specific information, such as charts showing the counties of residence for each active member. Information could be cross-referenced to ensure greater accuracy. Such information could be presented in this way:
3. Examine certified payroll records for construction contract employees on County projects for the past five years. How many live in Sonoma County? How many don't? Such information could be presented in this way:
4.Survey all prime contractors and subcontractors on County projects for the past five years, to determine which trades they employed and which of those trades were unionized. Rather than identifying each company as "union" or "non-union," the County should determine the union status of each trade employed by the contractor:
5. Once that information is obtained, the Environmental Impact Report would have factual information about each trade. Here is an example:
This chart would allow an environmental review to make reasonable conclusions about the policy's impact on traffic, greenhouse gas emissions, and housing. It shows clearly that the Project Labor Agreement will dramatically shift the welding trade on County projects from Sonoma County residents to residents outside the County. And since the International Brotherhood of Welders, Local 379 only has 53 members in Sonoma County and 139 members overall (as shown in an earlier chart above), it's obvious the Project Labor Agreement policy will bring in welders from outside of the County, especially travelers who will probably drive from Solano County and Contra Costa County to the job site via Lakeville Highway. And because John Doe Construction is the only contractor based in Sonoma County that employs union welders, statistics collected for the welding trade suggest there will be a reduction of Sonoma County contractors working on County projects.
What Are Alternatives to a Project Labor Agreement Policy?
- A Project Labor Agreement policy that allows a construction company to obtain all of its trade workers from any source, provided the company is not already signatory to a Master Labor Agreement for that particular trade. This would allow companies not signatory to a Master Labor Agreement for all or some trades to maintain their own permanent workforce.
- Establishment of a labor compliance program and contractor prequalification questionnaire for County projects above a certain construction cost threshold. This would reduce chances that a construction contractor on a County project willfully or accidently violates the law.
- No change in County construction contract requirements, under the premise that there was no recognizable need for the Project Labor Agreement policy in the first place.
There is one obvious project that the Environmental Impact Report should evaluate to provide insight on alternatives to the Project Labor Agreement policy. The Board of Supervisors considered a proposal at its September 18, 2012 meeting to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement as a condition of working on the Charles M. Schulz - Sonoma County Airport Runway Safety Area (RSA) Improvement Project. In the end, the Board of Supervisors did not mandate a Project Labor Agreement, and the County subsequently awarded a $22.7 million contract without a Project Labor Agreement. This contract award was not controversial; the board approved it unanimously.
We look forward to being a constructive player in helping the County to develop an accurate, comprehensive Environmental Impact Report for its proposed Project Labor Agreement policy.
Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction
PO Box 1627
Poway, CA 92074
Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction - P.O. Box 1627 - Poway, California 92074
Tel: (858) 633-6523 - Fax: (760) 690-4471 - www.opencompca.com