Alex Galicia is living the American dream. A Mexican-American and Iraq war veteran, he has raised a family and started a small plumbing business. One weekend a month he still serves as a citizen soldier.
But as he serves his country, provides for his family and meets the payroll demands for his employees and their families, he is finding his biggest challenges come not from the marketplace, or competitors, but from his own government.
Because he chooses not to be a part of a union.
“The labor unions and the elected officials who owe their seats to them are constantly erecting barriers,” he told WND. “Even though I pay taxes to a local school or city that does not matter. They do not want me and my people working because we choose not to join a union.”
And it soon could get worse.
He already has found that any potential contract involving “public works” projects for a city, school and even federal buildings is hard to get.
And unions are working on getting what are called “Project Labor Agreements” imposed, so that there’s even less opportunity for the small and independent businesses.
Those PLAs are highly controversial because they are written by national labor unions and designed to keep local non-union contractors like Galicia from being able to work on a project. They require every contractor to sign an agreement with the local labor unions to be the exclusive representative of all workers.
Non-union workers would be required to pay dues to the union and employers like Galicia would be required to pay into union pension, health and training funds for benefits their workers will never see.
“If I have to pay double benefits … I lose money. You cannot stay in business when your competitors pay half the benefits you pay,” he said.
PLAs are so controversial that voters in San Diego banned them, as did voters in San Diego County and several other cities. To date, 24 states have enacted some kind of ban or package of severe restrictions, but California lawmakers and union leaders are undaunted, now moving to create a punishment for cities that prevent the use of PLAs, and to reward those who use them.
This past legislative session, they even adopted language to force local governments to abide by PLAs.
Kevin Dayton, the principal at Labor Issues Solutions, a California think-tank on labor issues, found this bill particularly concerning.
“In all my years tracking these, I have never seen such a brazen disregard for local elected officials. Here you have a group of commissioners appointed to make these decisions, who actually voted to ask the state not to force a PLA on them, and their own lawmaker is attempting to force it on them anyway. We are used to seeing power abused in California, but not like this.”
The plan, AB 155, was authored by Assemblyman Luis Alejo who represents Monterey County. It would mandate that his County Water Resources Agency use a PLA if the agency uses the design-build method for the construction of the proposed $25 million Interlake Tunnel Project to connect Lake Nacimiento and Lake San Antonio by an underground tunnel or pipeline.
The Monterey County Water Resources Agency board of directors voted 5-3 to ask the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to withdraw support for the bill after the PLA language was added.
The bill now is on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, and whether he will sign it is uncertain. California’s non-union contractors and workers have hope that Brown may veto the bill.
According to Dayton, “We are not used to seeing Brown rebuff unions often, but he does have an independent streak. On the issue of the state trampling local authority he has also staked ground in support of local ‘subsidiarity’ – allowing local governments to make decisions, arguing in favor of shifting power to the local level. His signing statement of SB 922 (Steinberg) on October of 2011 demonstrates that he knows PLAs are controversial and supported a PLA law in part because it did not trample local control. He noted that the bill ‘preserves the right of all sides to debate what obviously is a hotly contested issue. Seems fair to me – even democratic.'”
Another reason for optimism by bill opponents is the course Brown has navigated.
Observers like Dayton note a nuance that people outside of California may find hard to believe.
“The assembly lawmakers in Sacramento are so far left of center that they make Brown a centrist by comparison.”
Galicia still has hope, “I pray the governor will veto this bill. If lawmakers start forcing local bodies to use PLAs they will force me out of public projects or maybe just to federal projects only. At least the federal government still gives us a chance.”
Finally, documents exposed as the result of a public records act and published in Union Watch chronicle what bill opponents call a “union lobbying scheme to control water project construction.”
Supporters of open contracting opportunities hope that the governor will want no part of what they call a “union manipulation of the legislative process.”
For their part, California union leaders are moving ahead and looking to the future assuming Brown will sign AB 155.
Ron Chesshire, chief executive officer of the labor group Monterey/Santa Cruz Building and Construction Trades Council told the Salinas Californian “a project labor agreement, or PLA, should be part of all public projects as required under state public contract law.”
Cesar Lara, secretary-treasurer of the General Teamsters Union Local 890, agreed, telling the Californian, “Any public project should have a project labor agreement.”
Galicia hopes everyone will call Brown asking for a veto.
And Dayton issued a warning. “If California lawmakers force PLAs statewide, you will see the same push for PLAs in Oregon, Washington, New York, Illinois and who know where after that.”