‘Gut and amend’ bills help fill union coffers

It’s “gut and amend” season in the California Legislature. More like shuck and jive and obfuscate.

I recently received information that another bill had been gutted of its original intent, and new language added to greatly benefit labor unions. By the end of the day, two additional bills were uncovered that had also been totally amended on behalf of labor unions.

Sure enough, three bills are all about union project labor agreements: Senate Bill 922, originally authored by Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Chino. AB 436 by Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana. And SB 790 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.

Why should we care?

Because PLAs inflate the cost of construction significantly, and cost taxpayers more money on public projects. Critics say the extra funds help beef up the coffers of the highly politicized labor unions in the state.

To understand the impact these three bills will have on the state if passed, first the innocuous-sounding project labor agreements must be dissected.

A study by the National University Institute for Policy Research, an independent research firm verified by University of Southern California, showed that project labor agreements on school construction in California increase costs by 13 to 15 percent. The study found, “Measuring the Cost of Project Labor agreements on school construction in California, the presence of a PLA is associated with costs that are $28.90 to $32.49 per square foot higher.”

SB 922 was taken over by new authors, the Democratic leaders in the Legislature: Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez, both former union leaders. It started out as a bill about immunizations and tuberculosis screening. But it was gutted and amended on Sept. 2, and now would end “fair and open competition” policies, and would terminate any PLA bans enacted by city and county governments.

AB 436, by Solorio, was amended Aug. 30, but started out as a prevailing wage bill for public works projects. AB 436 has turned into a “labor compliance” bill and would now require local governments to pay Labor Compliance Program fees to the state, unless they already require contractors to sign project labor agreements.

SB 790, by Leno, has been amended seven times, most recently Aug. 30. The bill would hold up permits for power plants using the state’s overreaching California Environmental Quality Act laws, until the developer or public utility agrees to sign a project labor agreement — a thuggish strong-arm tactic.

As explained in “The Truth About PLAs,” a project of Associated Builders and Contractors, SB 790 “now includes an obscure and unrelated amendment that authorizes payments in Project Labor Agreements covering utility infrastructure construction to mysterious union slush funds managed by top construction union officials. The most prominent of these trust funds, the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust, had $3 million in the bank last year and mailed letters dated Aug. 5 to elected officials throughout the state promoting Project Labor Agreements.”

Eric Christen with the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction reports, “Here’s the scheme protected by Senate Bill 790: Hold up the permit for a power plant by exploiting environmental laws until the developer or public utility surrenders and signs a Project Labor Agreement. Include a provision in the PLA requiring payments to a mysterious union slush fund. Use the slush fund to fund pet projects, contribute to election campaigns, and support other political activities. When the scheme is exposed, get the state legislature to declare it legal in the Public Utilities Code!”

“The three bills are exactly what’s wrong with California,” Christen said. He predicted that the bills will sail through the Legislature. He’s pinning his hope on Gov. Jerry Brown to veto the bills. Brown may not be a fan of nanny legislation, but so far, he’s been a best friend to unions.

Katy Grimes is a reporter for calwatchdog.com, an affiliate of the Pacific Research Institute.