There’s an old adage in politics and kindergarten, “Never resort to name calling, it means you’re losing.” This truth was on display May 18th when Erik Bruvold, founding president of the National University System Institute for Policy Research, presented the results and took questions about his groundbreaking study on the cost of Project Labor Agreements on K-12 school construction. My organization, the Associated Builders and Contractors, California Cooperation Committee (CCC), partnered with the Contra Costa Taxpayers association to provide a public education opportunity, specifically a fact-based economic discussion about what Project Labor Agreements mean for cash-strapped school districts seeking alternatives to teacher layoffs and classroom cuts.
Mr. Bruvold was painstaking in his explanation of the study’s breadth, which included investigating 551 school districts across California. His methodology factored out land acquisition costs, and factored in seismic safety and prevailing wage requirements. In addition, the University of Southern California thoroughly reviewed the study’s methodology and validated the findings. The result? The use of a Project Labor Agreement adds 13-15 percent to the cost of school construction.
While Bruvold used facts, local unions brought a blow up toy, cell phones with ringers set on high, even a noisy baby. They yelled at Bruvold, accused him of lying and resorted to calling him names. Yes, there was an inflatable rat outside of the academic presentation. Even though I’m relatively new to California, this tactic is the universal signal of retreat. But that is how it works when it comes to debates about Project Labor Agreements. Proponents of PLAs make promises about the benefits of the exclusionary and costly agreements. CCC has examined those claims, and compared them to the facts. Needless to say, there wasn’t much fact behind their rhetoric.
The CCC has a critical mission, protecting taxpayers and ensuring workers are protected. Itwas formed to conduct research, audit public works projects and engage in public outreach so that an informed public can push the best public policy. We are very proud of the independently reviewed National University study, which is the most-comprehensive work ever conducted in this field. When the study was released last summer, CCC helped with the distribution which landed national coverage included appearances on the Tom Sullivan Show on FOX Business Network and a 30 minute segment on the nationally syndicated Hugh Hewitt radio program. All in all, the piece was carried in dozens of markets across California and nationally.
The facts carried the day, but that was not the end of it. Representatives of the Building Trades and their political allies tried to discredit the study making false statements about the methodology and findings. California’s leading education leadership organizations, the Association of California School Administrators and the California Association of School Business Officials both issued a statement that validated the research and rejected the arguments made by opponents. In chess, that’s called checkmate.
In an ideal world, organized labor would be focused the same direction we are, winning work on merit, proving their value, and funding our own pensions. They would protest taxpayer groups and government entities only when those groups champion poor craftsmanship or worker exploitation by shady, fly by night operators. However, they know that Professor Bruvold, the CCC and contractor associations like the ABC, AGC and WECA stand for quality construction, taxpayer value and facts. Absent the facts, the unions resort to rats. We will take that as a compliment. Meanwhile, we invite them to engage in a civil public debate in any forum they choose. They can even bring their rat and noisy babies.