November 2015 – On the issues that matter most to California’s Building Trades workers, the recently wrapped up 2015 legislative session was an exceptionally busy—and in the end, exceptionally productive—period of work.
Across our wide range of crucial policy issues, from prevailing wage, to project labor agreements, to a skilled and trained workforce, to apprenticeships, we made marked, important progress in 2015.
We have our exceptional public leaders to thank for that, including Governor Jerry Brown, Senate President pro tem Kevin De Leȯn, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, our large pro-worker majorities, that we helped elect, in the Legislature, and those members who carried our bills. And we have our unity, our activism, our tenacious political participation through our members, to thank for those leaders who made these policy achievements a reality.
We sponsored and advocated for seven bills that moved through the Legislature and earned the Governor’s signature. Here’s a quick summary.
Assembly Bill 219, by Assembly member Tom Daly, D-Anaheim, closed a loophole that had denied some drivers of ready-mix concrete on public works projects the right to earn prevailing wage. In the past, prevailing wage was only paid to drivers employed directly by the contractor on the project, but not to drivers employed by the concrete manufacturer, even though the work of both sets of drivers is identical and requires the same set of skills. These drivers are all an important, skilled part of the construction industry. Fundamental fairness demands that they all earn prevailing wage. Now they will.
Assembly Bill 852, by Assembly member Autumn Burke, D-Los Angeles, extended prevailing wage to workers who deserve it on the construction of health care facilities financed by “conduit bonds,” in which the state or local government issues the bond to the developer on behalf of the lender in order to render the bonds tax-exempt, creating a public subsidy that at times adds up to millions of dollars for the developer in the form of tax savings. But in spite of that public subsidy, those workers had unfairly been denied prevailing wage. Not any more.
Assembly Bill 1358, by Assembly member Matt Dababneh, D-Los Angeles, increases the numbers of workers from a skilled workforce that must be used on design-build school construction, up to at least 60 percent by 2020. It also encourages the use of project labor agreements by establishing reporting requirements, and allowing that compliance to be satisfied by a PLA that contains the skilled workforce requirements.
Assembly Bill 566, by Assembly member Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, creates an incentive for school districts to use PLAs for school construction, specifically those performed under lease-leaseback contracts, in which a district leases a parcel of property to a builder for $1, providing that a school is built on the property and then leased back to the district. This concept is used for modernization projects as well. The bill adds safeguards that require contractors to meet qualification standards, to use a skilled workforce from state-approved apprenticeship programs, and contains reporting requirements that may be satisfied through the use of PLA. This bill will deter underground economy contractors, and stop the sole source award of projects to non-union contractors, and establish a fair and level playing field for honest contractors.
Assembly Bill 1431, by Assembly member Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, allows school districts to use an alternative bidding procedure known as Job Order Contracting to reduce costs and accelerate completion on some projects, provided the contractors are prequalified and enter into a Project Labor Agreement, for all work over $25,000 regardless of project delivery. It is modeled after a successful process developed by the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council.
Assembly Bill 1308, by Assembly member Henry Perea, D-Fresno, protects all state approved successful apprenticeship programs by reinforcing the “need standard.” It specifies that contractors must actually “have requested apprentices” and demonstrate a pattern of non-compliance before a new program is created. This is to remedy the problem of shady contractors creating phony apprenticeships for the sole purpose of paying workers lower wages with no intentions of ever graduating these workers into higher pay rates or journeyman status. The bill helps ensure the ongoing effectiveness and use of existing and successful Building Trades apprenticeship programs.
Assembly Bill 327, by Assembly member Richard Gordon, D-Los Altos, extends a sunset date on a prevailing wage exemption for volunteers performing chores on public projects, including state parks. This extends for seven more years an exemption we supported creating a decade ago, after adding safeguards to ensure it applied only to true charitable volunteers, and could not be exploited by unscrupulous contractors seeking to avoid paying workers the wage they deserve. By sponsoring this bill, we demonstrate our ongoing commitment not only to fair pay for workers, but also to volunteerism for a wide variety of worthy causes, often by our own affiliates and members on behalf of their communities.
So let’s consider the accomplishments of that legislative package taken as a whole: protection of prevailing wage for workers who deserve it, more powerful incentives for agreements that create level playing fields for fair contractors, a guarantee of the expanded use of a skilled and trained workforce and prequalified contractors, more protection and use of our highly effective, state-approved apprenticeships, and an important demonstration of our ongoing support of volunteerism.
Taken together, that is a mighty impressive win for California’s Building Trades workers, as well as the entire state of California. We thank our great leaders for getting it done. And let’s be clear once again: none of this happens without unity, and our persistent participation and always unified presence in the political process. Let’s keep up the good work.