OC Political

A right-of-center blog covering local, statewide, and national politics

Anaheim Elementary School District Limits Participation By Minority Contractors

Posted by Dave Everett on May 10, 2023

At the last regularly scheduled school board meeting, the Anaheim Elementary School District (AESD) voted to expand a special interest deal they had passed in 2018 on construction for the school district. The 2018 special interest deal is most commonly referred to as a Project Labor Agreement, but it was renamed by the AESD Board as a “Community Benefit Agreement” in an attempt to put a new face on an old idea that comes with a lot of controversy.

When one of the public comments at the Wednesday April 5, 2023 school board meeting mentioned that these special interest deals on construction are very controversial and discriminatory, AESD Trustee Ryan Ruelas responded that “…the public comment made by this gentleman from wherever, yeah, …I really don’t care what he has to say…”

Trustee Ryan Ruelas’ attitude is not surprising considering that according to the Anaheim Observer website, Ruelas has boasted in the past that, “I’m a union guy through and through.”

Unfortunately for Anaheim parents, not only do these special interest deals on construction waste taxpayer dollars and leave students with 4 buildings for the price of 5, but they also discriminate against minority contractors. 

Minority contractors say PLAs perpetuate the discrimination that has long pervaded construction unions. In an affidavit submitted to the court, Harry C. Alford, President of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, stated that 98% of black and Latino-owned construction companies are non-union and PLAs restrict the use of minority contractors on public projects. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielfisher/2013/11/15/lawsuit-asks-should-taxpayers-pay-more-for-labor-peace/)

In a district that is majority Latino it is hard to imagine why the school district would want to discriminate against Latino and black non-union construction companies. But feedback from the community does not seem to be a very high priority for the Anaheim Elementary School District. They only had two public comments the whole evening on their public agenda and those were both submitted electronically earlier in the day. The first comment was from Eric Christen from the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction (CFEC.) 

Even before reading the comment submitted by CFEC, the staff member reading the public comments was confused by the name switch from “Project Labor Agreement” to  a so-called “Community Benefit Agreement” and starts with her own editorial about how the comment from CFEC is not about any item on the agenda that she can tell. Finally ending her editorial comments, the school district staffer read the comments from the Coalition For Fair Employment In Construction which detailed how this special interest deal will ban over 80% of construction workers from working on the job. When you ban 80% of the construction market, or 80% of any industry, the remaining 20% becomes in higher demand and prices go up. 

In addition, as CFEC pointed out, you receive fewer bids on each construction project. The comments went on to point out two California cities that had enacted Project Labor Agreements and how they received so few bids that they had to re-bid the project. In response, that is when AESD Trustee Ryan Ruelas said that, “I don’t have you know a question or anything like that, but I do have a comment… I think the comment that was made in regards to, the public comment made by this gentleman from wherever, yeah, …I really don’t care what he has to say…”(Skip 3 hours and 34 minutes into the video to hear AESD Trustee Ryan Ruelas “I really don’t care what he has to say comment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXIGn0GBqeQ&t=6209s)

Ruelas’ apathetic dismissal of CFEC’s legitimate concerns struck Trustees Jose Paolo Magcalas and Mark Lopez as so funny that they had to share a glance and a smile.  

Then with no debate and no discussion, all five board members rushed to approve the discriminatory special interest deal on school construction. This is actually the first time Mark Lopez has voted for this type of waste and discrimination on a school district construction because he was not a board member in April 2018 when the original PLA vote occurred – nor was Trustee Juan Álvarez. Mark Lopez’s vote was especially curious since he used to work for one of the Republican Orange County Supervisors. AESD Trustee Jackie Filbeck voted for this discriminatory special interest deal both times.

So unfortunately, the motion was approved for an amendment to the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) between the District and the Los Angeles and Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council and the Signatory Craft Councils and Union for the addition of the project at Patrick Henry Elementary School which will be subject to the CBA.(Agenda can bee seen here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1X-U3VTu34JsOTa7RJwvtNmlzbVdNJ8xY/view)

Let’s hope that Anaheim Elementary School District doesn’t have a budget downturn like California did from 2022 to 2023. When budget surpluses vanish, that is when elected officials look back at wasteful discriminatory special interest deals like this one and start to care – instead of saying, “I really don’t care what he has to say.” The public will have another opportunity to speak out against this special interest deal tonight at the regularly scheduled school board meeting for the Open Session Meeting in the Board of Education Board Room, 1001 S. East Street, Building B, Anaheim, California. (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ZSdTkJibn_WgyOE6Op6QvKwPjvwjy9r0/view). If we do not put an end to these special interest deals on school construction, the real losers will be our students, taxpayers and minority contractors.

Anaheim Elementary School District Limits Participation By Minority Contractors

May 10, 2023

By Dave Everett

Western Electrical Contractors Association

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