by Kevin Dayton
Here’s yet another scoop from the Dayton Public Policy Institute about how unions are influencing the June 2012 elections in California: one supreme union official based in Sacramento has pumped $1.14 million into San Diego to defeat a city voter initiative called Proposition A. And some of the cash originally comes from utility ratepayers.
For readers unfamiliar with Proposition A, read immediately below. Those who know about Proposition A can proceed down to read about the union sources of $1.14 million for the No on A campaign.
Who Supports Proposition A in San Diego, and Why?
In 2011, San Diego voters signed petitions to qualify a Fair and Open Competition ordinance for consideration in the June 5, 2012 election. Now designated on the ballot as Proposition A, the Fair and Open Competition ordinance would prohibit the City of San Diego from requiring construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with unions as a condition of working on a taxpayer-funded project. It also contains language requiring the city to post certain contract information on-line. The campaign to enact Proposition A is strongly supported by construction companies and construction trade associations. Government-mandated Project Labor Agreements reduce the number of bidders competing for contracts and therefore increase costs for taxpayers (as academic studies, basic economic theory, and common sense would predict).
Who Opposes Proposition A in San Diego, and Why?
The main opponents of Fair and Open Competition policies are construction trade unions, which regard government-mandated Project Labor Agreements as an effective political tactic to cut bid competition and raise costs for their own benefit. With Project Labor Agreements, union organizers can completely avoid the unpleasant and time-consuming task of selling the benefits of unionization to skeptical workers. Instead, they simply ask their political allies in government to give them a union monopoly on construction!
Most construction unions in California belong under the umbrella of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, a union conglomerate based in Sacramento under the leadership of president Bob Balgenorth. If you look at the list of contributors to the No on A campaign (Taxpayers to Preserve Community Jobs, No on Measure A, sponsored by labor and management organizations), you’ll see the top two donors are Sacramento-based union-affiliated organizations under the direction of Bob Balgenorth. These two entities contributed $1.14 million to the No on A campaign, comprising 96% of all campaign receipts.
Let’s take a closer look at these two massive organizations funding the No on A campaign. One of them is a routine political action committee, but the other is a conspiracy theorist’s dream come true. The Sacramento-based committee known as “Members’ Voice of the State Building Trades Council of California” made a late expenditure contribution of $45,000 to the No on A campaign on May 24. As you can see on the California Secretary of State’s web site, this committee collects money from various local construction unions and disburses the money to various campaigns for candidates and ballot measures. The Assistant Treasurer of the Members’ Voice of the State Building Trades Council of California is Bob Balgenorth. But it’s Balgenorth’s other fund that’s the real story here.
A Mysterious Union (imho) “Slush Fund”, Authorized by an Obscure 1978 Federal Law to Encourage Better Relationships Between Unions and Manufacturers, Gave $1,095,000 to No on A – a Whopping 92% of All Receipts!
Something called the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust contributed a total of $1,095,000 to the No on A campaign. This is an extraordinarily high amount for a political contribution from one entity, especially concerning a local ballot measure! The head of the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust is Bob Balgenorth.
This is NOT a traditional Political Action Committee. It is an arcane type of union trust authorized by the obscure Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978, a law signed by President Jimmy Carter and implemented by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Inspired by the decline of unionized manufacturing in the Northeast, this federal law was meant to help industrial management and union officials build better personal relationships and cooperate against the threat of outside competition. There are no federal or state regulations specifically addressed toward these trusts, and these trusts do not have any reporting requirements to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards. This is an ambiguous and forgotten law that’s ripe for abuse.
It’s Not Union Members that Give the Money to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust: It’s Utility Ratepayers and Contractors Working for Extorted Power Plant Owners
Since the 1990s, whenever an energy company or public utility submits an application to the California Energy Commission seeking approval of a new power plant, an organization called California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) often “intervenes” in the licensing process. CURE submits massive data requests and environmental objections to the California Energy Commission. The applicant by law is required to answer CURE’s submissions, at significant cost and delay. The chairman of California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) is Bob Balgenorth.
If the power plant owner agrees to sign a Project Labor Agreement and require its construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California or its regional affiliates, CURE’s objections go away and the power plant can proceed unhindered through the licensing process. If the company or utility does not surrender to CURE’s demand, then CURE’s interference and lawsuits continue.
This racket – sometimes called “greenmail” because it’s the use of environmental laws to pressure developers to sign Project Labor Agreements – is well-known to the energy industry in California and has been extensively reported in the news media over the past dozen years. (For example, see Labor Coalition’s Tactics on Renewable Energy Projects Are Criticized – Los Angeles Times – February 5, 2011.)
For cases in which the power plant applicant succumbs to CURE’s harassment, the Project Labor Agreement that the power plant owner signs usually contains a provision requiring the owner or its contractors to make a lump-sum payment or series of payments to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust.
For example, the Project Labor Agreement signed by the Northern California Power Agency (a conglomerate of publicly-owned utilities) for the construction of the Lodi Energy Center required the agency to shell out $90,000 to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust. That amount was dutifully mailed to Bob Balgenorth on August 17, 2010. (For more on this payment, see High Energy: Lodi Center Designed to be a Powerhouse for Chunk of State – Stockton Record – October 4, 2011; also, the union rebuttal on the California Building Trades Council web site – ABC Falsehoods Refuted in Letter to Stockton Record – a denial that the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust is used for political contributions.)
And the Project Labor Agreement signed by the Southern California Public Power Authority (another conglomerate of publicly-owned utilities) for the construction of the City of Anaheim’s Canyon Power Plant required the agency to shell out $65,000 to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust. See Section 13.1 of the Project Labor Agreement here.
The California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust reports these payments as “membership dues” to the Internal Revenue Service. Which brings up a question: are the local elected officials who serve as commissioners for the Northern California Power Agency and the Southern California Public Power Authority exercising their responsibilities as “members” to approve $1,095,000 in political contributions to the No on A campaign?
But Wait a Minute…Is It Legal to Have Utility Ratepayers Fund a Mysterious Union Trust Fund that Contributes to Political Campaigns, Such as No on A?
Well, in 2009 an internal committee of the Northern California Power Agency discussed whether or not a payment to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust was an illegal gift of public funds. (See here. Note the original amount to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust was supposed to be $150,000, but aggressive opposition to the Project Labor Agreement forced the unions to cut it down to $90,000 in order to win approval from the board of commissioners.)
To solve this uncertainty, in May 2011 State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) added a cryptic amendment at the request of union lobbyists and lawyers to the end of a large unrelated public utilities bill (Senate Bill 790) regarding “community choice aggregation.” It added Section 3260 to the Public Utilities Code: “Nothing in this division prohibits payments pursuant to an agreement authorized by the National Labor Relations Act (29 U.S.C. Sec. 151 et seq.), or payments permitted by the federal Labor Management Cooperation Act of 1978 (29 U.S.C. Secs. 173, 175a, and 186). Nothing in this division restricts any use permitted by federal law of money paid pursuant to these acts.”
No one in the California State Legislature – apparently not even Senator Leno – initially knew what this strange new provision meant. In the end, a few legislators such as Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) came to understand and reveal in floor debate that it authorized public utilities to pass on the costs of payments to labor-management cooperation committees to ratepayers. Governor Brown signed the bill into law with the language tacked on the end.
For more information, see the investigative report of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction at this September 23, 2011 post at www.TheTruthaboutPLAs.com: A Genuine California Union Conspiracy: Senate Bill 790 and the California Building Trades Council’s Ratepayer Funded Political Slush Fund
Confused about the Conspiracy? Here’s a Chart.
|A public utility or private energy company applies to the California Energy Commission for approval to build a power plant.|
|California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) uses its “intervenor” status at the California Energy Commission to submit massive data requests and environmental complaints about the proposed power plant, as a result gumming up the licensing process and causing costly and lengthy delays for the applicant.|
|Applicant for prospective power plant surrenders and agrees to sign Project Labor Agreement with State Building and Construction Trades Council of California or its regional affiliates. CURE releases its grip of legal paperwork and the project moves forward unimpeded and acclaimed as environmentally sound.|
|The Project Labor Agreement contains a required payment or payments to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust. California Public Utilities Code Section 3260 – enacted by Senate Bill 790 in 2011 – allows public utilities to pass costs through to ratepayers.|
|California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust reports those payments to the IRS as “Membership Dues,” creating questions about the rights inherent for dues-paying members.|
|California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust makes contributions to political campaigns, such as $1,095,000 to fund 92% of the No on A campaign (Taxpayers to Preserve Community Jobs, No on Measure A, sponsored by labor and management organizations) in the City of San Diego in 2012|