The Pacific Legal Foundation, a California-based legal watchdog group, is challenging a new law in California. PLF contends that the law violates First Amendment rights by empowering labor unions to take resources from building-industry promotional associations if they do not make concessions to “labor’s public-policy line.”
California’s Senate Bill 954, according to PLF, would labor unions to block certain contributions by contractors to industry associations that the unions do not support. Previously, in lieu of paying the full prevailing wage (i.e., an amount reflecting unionized wage levels), contractors on state projects could donate to organizations with a mission of advancing the building industry. PLF argues that under SB 954, such contributions are allowed only:
1) if the business is unionized or agrees to play by union rules on a given project; and
2) if the union formally approves of the donation.
PLF is representing Associated Builders and Contractors-California Cooperation Committee. According to the ABC-CCC, its mission is to promote “free, open, and vigorous competition in the building and construction industry.” ABC-CCC says it supports the right of employers and employees to choose not to become unionized and to be free from coercion to become unionized.
In an email to Spero News, PLF attorney Anastasia Boden wrote, “With SB 954, California has cut off funding to an important voice in the public debate over public contracting. ABC-CCC provides a vital counterweight to union-supported advocacy. By removing that counterweight and tipping the scale in favor of union-backed speech, SB 954 violates the First Amendment's promise that government won't stifle speech just because it doesn't like what it says.
“SB 954 essentially allows unions to veto the open-shop construction industry's First Amendment rights. In a free and open society, government should allow vigorous policy debate, free of censorship.”
Boden added, “The plain effect of SB 954 is to stifle speech that is contrary to unions' policy preferences. That's not only antithetical to a free society, it's unconstitutional.”
In an earlier statement about SB 954, Boden said that the law “gives unions a veto over where contractors may direct their public-policy donations.” She said furthermore, “It amounts to a frontal assault on the First Amendment. The Constitution forbids government from using its coercive power to favor some viewpoints over others in the open, free, and vigorous arena of policy debate.”
Boden said that ABC-CCC is a victim of what she called “unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, and by extension so are the thousands of California contractors and tens of thousands of workers whose interests it represents/” added Boden. “ABC-CCC used to receive prevailing wage contributions, but it no longer can because its open-shop viewpoint makes it unpopular with unions.”
Executive Director John Loudon of ABC-CCC asserted, according to PLF, that California politicians and labor unions have declared “open season on nonunion workers and contractors.” He added, “Clearly, the end-game of the politicians who run California is the elimination of every nonunion job.”
The case is titled, Associated Builders and Contractors-California Cooperation Committee v. Becerra. More information is available at PacificLegal.org
In an April 2016 before the California Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee, Loudon explained that because of an obscure provision in California’s prevailing-wage law, $8.09 per hour is contributed for Sacramento electrical workers to union-affiliated trust funds, which is more than $15,000 a year of taxpayer-funded contributions for every single employee. There is no mandated public reporting of how those thousands of dollars are spent by the union-affiliated trust funds.
Prevailing-wage rates in California include fringe benefits in addition to base pay. The fringe benefits include payment under the following headings: healthcare, retirement, and “other.” The latter category means that employers are paying into “industry advancement” activities to benefit both nonunion and union workers. Interestingly, the Department of Industrial Relations authorized nonunion groups to also receive this funding. Loudon said nonunion contractors will continue to be forced to make those same payments, but unions want to prevent non-union construction workers from pooling their resources to defend their jobs. Under a previous law, Loudon said, union and nonunion labor were treated equitably. The “other” column funds could go to monitor and enforce prevailing wage law and and support industry advancement. He said “SB 954 is a total departure, a 180 degree turn from what unions promised lawmakers at the time. SB 954 is a frontal assault on non-union contractors and construction workers.”