As late as last Thursday, Sen. Gloria Negrete-McCloud's Senate Bill 922 was an innocuous measure that would have added tuberculosis to information that may be disclosed under the state's immunization system.
Then Friday, just a week before the legislative session ends, the word tuberculosis disappeared from the measure and so did the original author. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker
John A. Pérez are the new authors of a far more controversial measure. The amended SB 922 would bar city councils and county supervisors or even local voters from banning "project labor agreements," essentially agreements that require public agencies to use union labor for public works projects.
Pushed by the building trades union, the new SB 922 is a blatant attempt to forestall a campaign by nonunion contractors to ban PLAs on the local level. The nonunion contractors argue that such agreements deter them from bidding for public construction projects. When they do bid and win, they either have to make their nonunion workers join a union and pay union dues or abandon them and hire union workers out of a union work hall instead. By denying fair competition, PLAs, critics claim, end up greatly inflating the cost of public works.
A statewide coalition led by non-union contractors has managed to pass ordinances that ban PLAs in nine local jurisdictions so far. The coalition is gathering signatures for a ballot measure to ban them in the city and county of Sacramento. too.
As amended, SB 922 would kill that measure before local voters got a chance to cast a ballot. It would nullify PLA bans already approved in other jurisdictions. In the case of charter cities like Sacramento which have independent authority over their contracting practices, the measure would prevent any state funds from being used to finance a project in a city where a PLA ban has been approved.
Whether banning PLAs is a good idea remains an open question. But the gut-and-amend measure being jammed through the Legislature at the last minute is a travesty. Steinberg and Pérez should be ashamed of themselves. Rules designed to insure transparency and fairness have been ignored.
The bill is another disquieting example of the awesome power that unions wield among majority Democrats in the Legislature.
Two other bills have also been quietly amended in the final days of the Legislature to benefit PLAs as well. Assembly Bill 436 would exempt local governments from certain fees if they required their contractors to sign project labor agreements. And Senate Bill 790 would facilitate payments by public utilities to a union-controlled fund that has been active in promoting PLAs.
Strongly supported by unions that bankroll the campaigns of Democratic legislators, these noxious measures are very likely to make it out of both houses of the Legislature. In the interest of fairness and adherence to their own rules, we'd urge lawmakers to prove us wrong, and if they don't, we ask the governor to veto them.
Yet given organized labor's stranglehold on the majority party, we wouldn't recommend holding your breath on that.