OC Political

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

Posts Tagged ‘PLA’

Did San Diego Public Officials Conspire With Unions To Enter A Labor Friendly Contract For The San Diego Convention Center Expansion, In Violation Of A Local Proposition? The Secret Email Accounts May Tell The Story.

Posted by Greg Woodard on July 3, 2013

San Diego, our neighbor to the south, has had its share of political intrigue over the years.  The most recent iteration is an incestuous mix of Republican, Democrat, union, and big business involving the $520 million expansion of the San Diego Convention Center.  In the 1950s, California adopted open government laws to protect the integrity of the political system and guarantee transparency in the political process.  These protections have been eroded over the last few years as open government laws have failed to keep up with technology like emails and texts.  The cloak of secrecy thrown by San Diego public officials regarding the Convention Center expansion project is the most recent example of an attempt to return California government business to the days of backroom deals negotiated far from the public’s view.

Our story begins in June 2012, when the San Diego voters passed Proposition A, a ballot initiative known as the “Fair and Open Competition in Construction Ordinance.”  Prop. A amended the City Municipal Code to prohibit the City from requiring a contractor to enter into a Project Labor Agreement (“PLA”) on City construction projects, except where required by state or federal law, or as a condition of the receipt of state or federal funds.  A PLA is a collective bargaining or similar labor agreement, entered into with one or more labor organizations that establishes the terms and conditions of employment on a City construction project.  A PLA can often result in higher labor costs for the City when a project could otherwise be negotiated with private, non-unions contractors.

The Convention Center expansion project proposes adding approximately 200,000 – 225,000 square feet of exhibit space, 100,000 square feet of meeting space, and an 80,000 square foot ballroom.  In addition, the proposal would add a new hotel, as well as a waterfront park, open space, retail space, and a pedestrian promenade.  During 2012, the City sought proposals for a company to act as project manager for the expansion of the Convention Center.  In October 2012, the City selected Clark/Hunt as the project manager.

Throughout 2012, various labor unions and environmental groups filed a series of lawsuits challenging aspects of the Convention Center expansion project.  On November 8, 2012, the City entered into a settlement agreement with the unions and environmental groups that resolved all of the outstanding lawsuits.  In exchange for the groups’ support of the expansion project, the City agreed to pay $30,000 in legal fees purportedly incurred by the labor plaintiffs in the different lawsuits.  At the same time the City was entering the settlement agreement, Clark/Hunt announced that it had signed a PLA with local unions in connection with the expansion project.  Also on November 8, 2012, former Republican Mayor Jerry Sanders held a press conference to announce the settlement with several union representatives, including Lorena Gonzalez, then head of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Central Labor Council.  Gonzalez is now representing the 80th District in the California Assembly.  Gonzalez has previously expressed her opposition to Prop. A.

Public records on file with the San Diego Superior Court show that, beginning in January 2013, a local watchdog group submitted a request to the City under the Public Records Act, the state’s open government law, seeking copies of the PLA as well as other documents related to the expansion project.  The City stonewalled the group, and in April 2013, the group filed a lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court.  After the lawsuit was filed, the City produced some documents they claimed were responsive to the group’s request.  On June 3, 2013, Thomas Zeleny, San Diego’s Chief Deputy City Attorney, sent a letter to the group’s attorney enclosing two emails that Zeleny claimed had recently been brought to his attention as responsive documents.  One of those emails, dated September 21, 2012 (included with attachment below), was from Julie Dubick, then Chief of Staff for Mayor Sanders.  The email, which appears to be from her San Diego public email address, was sent to Gonzalez at her union email address.  The email included an attachment of apparent talking points for the settlement that had been reached between the City and union groups.  Included among the points are: (1) the Mayor would schedule a meeting with Marriott (the potential hotel on the expansion project) and support labor’s position; (2) the Mayor would attempt to effect an agreement between the general contractor and labor to effect an agreement “similar to the PetCo Park agreement” (PetCo Park was built with a PLA with unions); (3) the Mayor would appoint a labor-friendly member on the Convention Center Board (which he subsequently did); (4) the unions would dismiss their lawsuits and not further challenge the expansion project; (5) the unions would write a letter to the Coastal Commission supporting the expansion project; and (6) the unions would attend the October 1, 2012 City Council meeting and support the expansion project.

The most interesting part about Dubick’s email is that it simply says, “Here is suggested language.  Please confirm receipt to jpdubick@gmail.com.  See you at 2pm today.”  The gmail account Dubick instructed Gonzalez to send a response to was not her official public email address.  That raises an interesting question as to why Dubick would instruct Gonzalez to contact her through her private email account, rather than her public email address.  Unfortunately, we do not know if or how Gonzalez responded because the City has not produced any further documents from either Dubick’s public or private email accounts.  When asked by the group’s counsel if there was a widespread practice for City employees and elected officials to conduct official City business through private email accounts, Zeleny responded, “for all I know, all of the City business was run through Julie Dubick’s private email account . . . [pause] just joking.”

The irony is that the two September 21, 2012 emails were only discovered by the City Attorney because they were later attached to another email sent through the official City email network.  Had the emails not been forwarded as attachments through the official network, they would never have become public even though they clearly reflected the City’s public business.  The brevity and tone of the email also suggest prior discussions between Dubick and Gonzalez about the attached talking points.

As a result of the City Attorney’s discovery of the two emails, the City Attorney is investigating whether the PLA for the expansion project violates Prop. A, saying that the emails “raise questions that need further examination.”  The group has discovered several other private email accounts that it believes have been used to conduct extensive City business, but the City has not produced any other responsive emails from private accounts to date.  The group also has turned over all of the issues discussed in the lawsuit to law enforcement officials.

The City also produced the Mayor’s calendar as part of the group’s Public Records Act request.  The calendar indicates that the Mayor had several meetings and phone calls relating to the expansion project in September and October 2012.  One meeting was scheduled for 2:00 p.m. on September 21, 2012, the same day Dubick sent the email to Gonzalez.  Dubick’s email stated that she would see Gonzalez at 2 p.m.  I reached out to Assemblywoman Gonzalez for comment on whether she responded to the email (and if she would provide me a copy of any response), to what account she responded, and whether she attended that meeting or any other meeting regarding the expansion project.  Gonzalez’s Chief of Staff, Evan McLaughlin, responded that Gonzalez does not recall responding to the September 21, 2012 e-mail, and finds the storyline of the group’s lawsuit hard to believe.  He stated, “[a]s head of the Labor Council, Ms. Gonzalez always attended meetings to advocate for better wages for local workers, but she did not negotiate contracts – that’s the job of individual unions, not the Labor Council.  This sounds like another act of desperation by the same handful of anti-worker companies who are doing everything they can to drive down wages for local workers.”  McLaughlin did not confirm whether Gonzalez did respond to the email or whether she attended the September 21, 2012 meeting with the Mayor and Dubick.

Other documents produced by the City prove that, rather than ask that Clark/Hunt provide the City with public documents held by Clark/Hunt for the benefit of the City (as required by the Public Records Act), the City instead sent copies of responsive documents to Clark/Hunt for “review and approval” prior to releasing them to the group.  This practice is specifically prohibited by the Public Records Act which prohibits the City from allowing a third-party to control the disclosure of information otherwise subject to disclosure under the Act.

In sum, it does not look good for the City regarding meeting its obligations under the Public Records Act.  More troubling is the appearance of a widespread conspiracy by public officials, unions, and the general contractor for the circumventing of Prop. A by agreeing to a PLA in exchange for the unions dropping their legal challenges against the expansion project.  This conspiracy may have been aided by undisclosed communications between the Mayor’s staff and union representatives, including Assemblywoman Gonzalez.

Given the recent flap over the state Democrats’ attempt to gut the Public Records Act (Gonzalez initially voted for the gutting of the Act), as well as prior revelations that the former head of the federal EPA created a fake person and used “his” private email account to contact environmental groups and others to avoid requests for public documents similar to the request made by the group here, the City’s less than candid response to the group’s Public Records Act request should give pause to all San Diego residents.  In addition, a local public official’s use of private email accounts raises troubling questions of accountability and transparency.  The City Attorney himself has admitted to using a private email address to conduct City business.  He claims to review those emails and send the ones that relate to City business to his public account and respond through that account.  Can we be sure that other local and state officials are as thorough and conscientious as the City Attorney?

Many questions with respect to the documents requested by the group will be answered at the July 12, 2013 hearing on the lawsuit it filed.  Other questions will undoubtedly linger for some time after.

Dubick email (San Diego Convention Center Story)_001Dubick email (San Diego Convention Center Story)_002

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“Bullet” Train Contractor Steals From O.C. Construction Workers, Gets Fined By State

Posted by Dave Everett on June 13, 2013

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We are always told how union special interest deals known as Project Labor Agreements (or PLAs) ensure compliance with labor laws, but as I wrote a few weeks ago, that isn’t true.  Now we find out that the company selected to build the CA High Speed Rail “bullet” train has been hiring subcontractors that steal wages from their workers.  This week, the Tutor Perini Corporation was one of four general contractors issued citations by California Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su totaling $748,366. The Labor Commissioner issued citations for public works and labor law violations affecting a total of 89 workers to the general contractors and their subcontractors.

Orange County Public Libraries hired the Tutor Perini Corporation as a prime contractor to construct a new Laguna Niguel branch.  The Labor Commissioner’s investigation found that the proper prevailing wage and overtime rates were not paid to as many as 25 workers. $117,837 in unpaid wages, $30,800 in penalties and $539 in contributions to a DIR-approved training program for the California Apprenticeship Council (CAC) were assessed as a result.

The Tutor Perini Corporation came under fire earlier this year, for submitting a bid for the California High Speed Rail construction that would have been rejected under the original criteria of the project, but HSR Authority officials changed the bid specifications. Critics also point to the appearance of cronyism for the Tutor Perini Corporation for having past connections to the husband of California Senator Diane Feinstein, Richard Blum.  “Blum first became involved with what is now Tutor Perini in 1998 when he joined with Ronald Tutor to help recapitalize the troubled company. He reportedly sold his stock at a substantial profit in 2005.”  Critics of the Blum/Perini connection echo parallel criticisms you hear from the far-left political organizations about Dick Cheney’s affiliation with Halliburton.  They fear past connections will fuel future decisions.

As reported by Ken Broder of  AllGov California (AllGov .com provides up-to-date news about more than 140 departments and agencies in state government, most of which operate under the media radar,) “The staff of the California High-Speed Rail Authority recently recommended that Tutor Perini get the contract because it was the low-bidder, at $995 million, but came under fire because the company had the lowest technical score among the five contractors who bid. It didn’t help that the staff changed the criteria for selecting a winner without board approval. Originally, only companies with the highest technical scores were going to be eligible for the lowest-bid portion of the two-part process.”

So not only is the High Speed Rail limited to only union workers, thereby discriminating against the 8 out 10 construction workers who are not union, but they changed the bid criteria at the 11th hour to make sure a company was awarded the contract who has been caught red handed stealing from the wages of local Orange County construction workers.  

As Governor Jerry Brown’s Labor Commissioner Julie Su put it, “Failure to pay the proper prevailing wage is a form of wage theft. We will crack down on not only the subcontractors who steal workers’ wages and fail to pay apprenticeship training contributions, but also on the general contractors so we put proper incentives on them to deal only with honest, law-abiding businesses in California.”

It is just another in the long list of reasons why this High Speed Rail should not be built.  It is really just a give away to a variety of special interests: Big Labor, Feinstein cronies and even the Mayor of Fresno.  (Check out: Newly Public Documents Reveal Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin Had Key Role in Backroom Scheme for Union-Only Project Labor Agreement on California High-Speed Rail Project.) The Coalition For Fair Employment in Construction (CFEC) theorizes that, “…unions were promising to get the High-Speed Rail Heavy Maintenance Facility in Fresno in exchange for Mayor Swearengin’s help in getting the Project Labor Agreement, in a way that would avoid direct involvement of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.”

Officials like the ex-wife of OC Congressman Alan Lowenthal – Long Beach Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal,  even went so far as to turn off the microphones on ABC and CFEC representatives trying to ask on the record about the discriminatory special interest PLA deal.  Reason TV highlighted the lengths that the “bullet” train supporters will go to avoid public debate on this project.  Despite their efforts, Republican Congressman Jeff Denham was able to give the public a forum to address the concerns with so-called High Speed Rail at a House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials field hearing in Madera last week. The Associated Builders and Contractors submitted a statement for the record in opposition to the union-favoring project labor agreement (PLA) required by the California High Speed Rail Authority. 

  For more on Big Labor’s special interest deal on the HSR, skip to the 1 minute and 45 seconds mark in this NBC News TV report with Associated Builders and Contractors Northern California Chapter Government Affairs Director Nicole Goehring or hear it from former California State Assemblyman from Orange County, Chuck DeVore on FoxNews.

But it is now clear that with or without a PLA, High Speed Rail will have a tough time protecting its workers with a track record like that of Tutor Perini.

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