By John Loudon.

On June 3, 2014, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors approved a plan, which included $500,000 in local funding, to construct a $25 million pipeline between the Lake Nacimiento and Lake San Antonio reservoirs that will allow more storage of water for the Salinas Valley. The board took the vote and made the decision locally. Sadly, state lawmakers are attempting to force bad policy on local leaders in an unprecedented move to pay off organized labor unions.

Assemblyman Luis Alejo, who represents the Salinas Valley, gutted the contents of an unrelated bill, AB 155, and replaced them with a mandate requiring a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for the design-build pipeline project. Highly controversial PLAs raise project costs by reducing the bidding pool, giving union hiring halls control over all workers, banning non-union apprentices, and forcing non-union workers to send dues and all benefit payments to unions. As a result, the majority of contractors usually refuse to bid on the work which results in cost increases to taxpayers by as much as 13-15 percent.

Beyond the contracting issues, the story of AB 155 is much more troublesome for local elected officials who are accountable to constituents for leadership and prudent financial management. This is the first California bill to mandate a Project Labor Agreement on ANY project, state or local. If it passes, we can expect Sacramento politicians to intervene on one local issue after another at the behest of labor unions.

Historically, PLAs are considered on a local level as part of a thorough and thoughtful public debate. In this instance, however, there was no transparency or local discussion, just a Sacramento deal brokered by state legislators and union lobbyists. It was never disclosed in a public forum or with the local government leaders who have the ultimate responsibility for the success of the project.

These tactics reflect a growing and disconcerting trend in California’s policymaking process. State lawmakers profess to support local control when it is consistent with their (or their supporters’) agenda. AB 155 could set a dangerous precedent when there’s a conflict, allowing special interests to use the state legislative process to override local control again and again. This is similar to what lawmakers did last year in the passage of SB 7, which enacted laws to restrict the ability of charter cities to exercise their right to establish local laws and policies.

What happens with AB 155 will be a clear signal to local governments from the state. “You can have local control so long as we agree with you. If we don’t, then you won’t.” Beyond that, taxpayer funds and how they’re used will be at stake as will the control of future high-profile public works construction in California.

The good news is that Republicans have a chance to stop this effort to stifle local control. AB 155 has been marked as an urgency bill, which means it requires two-thirds approval from both the California Senate and the Assembly. After passing through the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, the bill is headed to the Senate floor where majority Democrats will need at least two Republicans to cast yes votes to move the bill forward.

The California Construction Compliance Group hopes that state lawmakers will respect local government authority and reject AB 155. It’s a secret deal that sets a dangerous precedent and could mean the end of true local control for local public works projects. A no vote is the only right vote on AB 155.

[divider] [/divider]

John Loudon is the Executive Director of the California Construction Compliance Group (CCCG). The non-profit organization promotes free, open and vigorous competition in the building and construction industry through monitoring, enforcing and evaluating changes to prevailing wage and apprenticeship laws in an effort to promote equal opportunity among prevailing wage contractors.