The Fairfield City Council is poised Tuesday to hand big-labor special interests a huge victory. Specifically they are set to approve a project labor agreement on the new Fairfield train station.
A project labor agreement is a highly controversial agreement that city staff spent less than 90 days “negotiating” with local union bosses. The agreement will discriminate against the 85 percent of the area construction workforce that is union-free and cost taxpayers dearly, adding at least $10 million to the cost of the project due to fewer companies bidding.
The council at its April 12 meeting unanimously approved the concept of a project labor agreement despite a great deal of public opposition. They directed staff to “negotiate” the agreement with unions (no one else is allowed into these backroom negotiations) and less than three months later they have their “agreement.”
Why so little time to negotiate? Because project labor agreements are boilerplate “agreements” that unions hand a local entity like Fairfield and tell them to sign. Their only purpose is to make it harder if not impossible for local union-free companies, workers and apprentices to get work on projects paid for with their tax dollars. If you have seen one project labor agreement you have seen them all and this agreement is, word for word, a typical project labor agreement.
Four main in provisions that are implicitly discriminatory are at the heart of the agreement. They limit a union-free company to only five of its workers and those workers must all be hired through a union hiring hall. These workers have to pay union dues, fees, and pay into union health, welfare and pension plans despite the fact they will probably never vest in any of those plans and thus that money is lost to them.
State-approved apprentices who are not part of a union, who are taking the same courses and have the same training as union apprentices, are excluded altogether. So a Fairfield resident who happens to be preparing for a future in the trades but chose to get his or her apprenticeship through the state and federally approved Western Electrical Contractors Association is now forbidden from working on this project. I look forward to the City Council explaining that one to the public.
So how do big-labor special interests try to sell such an obviously flawed document? They claim that it will help guarantee “local hires.” But how does that happen when most local construction workers are union-free? Furthermore, how is it that a project labor agreement can mandate that certain people are to be hired while someone who lives 10 yards outside of some arbitrary line drawn on a map can’t work?
The answer is they can’t mandate local hire, which is why this project labor agreement only makes reference to local hire “goals” and those “goals” are laughably that only 25 percent of workers will be “local.” The Solano County Board of Supervisors foolishly approved a project labor agreement on its $58 million Claybank Detention Center project and of the 18 subcontractors who worked on it, exactly zero were from Solano County.
Project labor agreements are simply political tools that politically powerful unions use to hammer their competition in an age where union market share in the industry has dwindled to less than 15 percent. It was more than 90 percent in the 1960s, but while the world has changed the mentality of “the union way or the highway” persists among today’s aging, anachronistic and increasingly unpopular union leadership.
The Fairfield City Council, unfortunately, is poised to approve this scheme and reward union bosses while punishing everyone else on a taxpayer-funded project. These agreements are so unpopular they have been banned in 23 states and 11 entities in California, including America’s eighth largest city, San Diego, where residents in June 2012 voted 58 percent to 42 percent to ban them.
We encourage taxpayers to attend the City Council meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday and express their outrage personally to these elected officials. Should the council still approve the project labor agreement, taxpayers will next have the opportunity to hold those same elected officials accountable come election time. My members and their employees certainly will for such exclusionary and divisive thinking has no place in 2014 America.
To view the project labor agreement for yourself, go to www.fairfield.ca.gov/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=9971.
Eric Christen is executive director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, a statewide organization dedicated to protecting contractors, workers, apprentices and taxpayers from project labor agreements. Founded in 1998, the organization was based in Fairfield for seven years and now has offices in Sacramento and San Diego.