Last week, the Oxnard Union High School District board of trustees — in a 3-2 vote — tentatively approved a Project Labor Agreement, or PLA, for its $45 million Rancho Campana High School project in Camarillo.

The packed board meeting was charged and divided all because three trustees (Wayne Edmonds, Socorro Lopez Hanson and Steve Hall) put Big Labor special interests before taxpayers, reason and workers’ rights.

This PLA will raise costs substantially while all but guaranteeing that the 85 percent of the local construction workforce who are union-free will be unable to work on a project paid for by their tax dollars.

Last night (November 20, 2013), the board of trustees for the Oxnard Union School District in Ventura County bickered with the school district administration and each other over the terms and conditions of a proposed Project Labor Agreement for a $40 million new school (Rancho Campana High School).

News Coverage: Tension Marks School Building Plans - Ventura County Star – November 22, 2013

Certain members of the school board have been pushing for a Project Labor Agreement at the behest of union lobbyists since their October 9, 2013 meeting. The school district awarded a lease-leaseback contract on October 23, 2013.

In an effort to declare outright victory, it appears that the targets and goals for a power plant in Lodi were altered, with at least one underperforming matrix being dropped from media advisories and announcements.

The project was unable to hire a single veteran, despite the state ranking second-to-worst for unemployed veterans of Post-9/11 wars.

The Lodi Energy Center is a 300-megawatt power plant that was designed to serve 13 municipalities in Northern California with energy. It was recently highlighted by POWER Magazine, the "definitive information source for the power generation market," as a top new plant in the country.

Changes to the state law should be vetted and discussed by all parties.

Gov. Jerry Brown has again raised the possibility of changing the California Environmental Quality Act. That's the sweeping 1970 state law that requires public and private developers to analyze the impacts of their projects, study alternatives and implement mitigation measures.

CEQA is a powerful legal tool, and nearly everyone has a love-hate relationship with it. Developers have used the law to derail projects of competing developers. Unions have sought exemptions from it for projects they liked and then filed CEQA lawsuits against developers who wouldn't commit to project-labor agreements.

Brown has been both a CEQA suitor and snubber. As attorney general, he used the law to pressure local governments into changing their development and transportation plans to reduce greenhouse gases. But before that, as Oakland mayor, he clashed with CEQA litigants who objected to his plans for accelerating the construction of infill housing in downtown Oakland.

During these tough budget times, you would think Sacramento would do everything possible to keep costs down and save taxpayers money. Sadly, the state is doing the opposite when it comes to public construction projects in order to benefit a privileged few.

In the fight for lucrative contracts, this privileged few have lobbied Sacramento hard to essentially require local governments to use "Project Labor Agreements." These agreements, known as PLAs, are sweetheart contracts awarded almost exclusively to unionized firms with the right political connections. PLAs are the opposite of the open and competitive bidding on construction projects that would ideally occur to drive down costs. Because PLAs are negotiated behind closed doors, projects tend to cost as much as 20 percent higher than they normally would be.

One example is the construction of Pasadena's Glenarm Power Plant in 2004. The same contractor bid at $14.9 million under open bidding, but raised the price to $17.2 million to accommodate the PLA requirements of hiring union labor. Taxpayers had to spend an extra $2.3 million.
That is $2.3 million that could have been better spent by the city of Pasadena on public safety and other priorities.

Some members of the non-union construction community have told me they are concerned about a Project Labor Agreement, which the Contra Costa Community College District will consider at its Wednesday meeting.

You can see a detailed staff report about the proposal in this agenda report, under Item 24D: http://www.4cd.edu/gb/agendas_minutes/agendas/2011-10-12.pdf.

The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the college district’s board room at 500 Court Street in Martinez. More information is available by calling 925-229-1000.

Monday, 03 October 2011 10:00

High Energy

LODI - Prefabricated pieces of the 280 megawatt Lodi Energy Center are so massive that the Northern California Power Agency has had to close down Interstate 5 two dozen times over the past year just to transport them from Stockton to the plant.

A two-year, $500 million project - $375 million for construction, plus bond debt service - the power plant is more than halfway to completion, and on track for a June 2012 opening, assistant general manager Ken Speer said.

When done, the 100-foot-tall plant will produce enough energy to serve 13 municipalities in Northern California, including Lodi.

Wednesday, 06 July 2011 00:00

Board should adopt project labor policy

When Stanislaus County invites bids on construction projects such as the new juvenile hall or a road widening  we always hope there will be multiple contractors wanting to do the work.

After all, healthy competition generally produces lower bids, which means that taxpayers get the best bang for their buck.

Under California law, all contractors on state or local government projects have to pay prevailing wages to plumbers, painters, electricians and other craftspeople. The compensation levels are determined by the state Department of Industrial Relations  and posted on its Web site, www.dir.ca.gov and include base salary, health and benefits, pensions, etc.

It's my impression that ordinary citizens in California are quite weary of the constant argument coming from Sacramento that state and local budget shortfalls are the consequence of "insufficient revenue."

This argument suggests that somehow we taxpayers are to blame for cuts to government services. It presupposes that governments already spend our tax money wisely, and there's no need for internal reform.

I'm very pleased that Stanislaus County leaders have identified at least one alternative to the blame-the-taxpayer mentality.

A national debate over project labor agreements made its way to Stanislaus County on Tuesday, with no clear winner.

County supervisors tentatively agreed not to require project labor agreements for county construction despite strong union objections. But supervisors promised to study the issue more before it resurfaces at a second reading of the proposed ordinance in two weeks, when they could change their votes.

Reversing course at that point is extremely rare. So is publicly raising the option, as supervisors did Tuesday.

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