South SLO County district passes controversial labor agreement

July 21, 2019

By Cal Coast Times staff

Amid allegations large donations from several unions were swaying their decisions, on July 18 two members of the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District board voted to require the use of local union members to construct an estimated $28 million redundancy project. A vote that has put a low interest government loan in jeopardy and likely increased the cost of the project. [Cal Coast Times]

During a standing-room only meeting, labor union representation voiced their support of the project labor agreement while several construction firms and builder advocacy groups noted their opposition.

The sanitation district, which serves the residents of the Oceano Community Service District, Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach, is governed by a three person board consisting of one representative from each community. Currently the board consists of Grover Beach Mayor Jeff Lee, Oceano district representative Linda Austin, and Arroyo Grande Mayor Caren Ray-Russom.

During the last election, labor and union groups donated $7,700 to Lee and $4,500 to Ray-Russom. Austin received no donations from labor or union groups.

During public comment, activist Julie Tacker questioned if the large union donations were influencing Lee and Ray-Russom’s decisions. Both Lee and Ray-Russom then defended their votes to require union labor.

“I have always supported labor, I am labor, I’m a teacher and I’ve been doing public service for nearly 15 years,” Ray-Russom said. “I’m not gonna make apologies for the fact that I have tremendous support.”

Lee mentioned the public has also questioned him about his donations from cannabis business owners. After Cal Coast Times reported Lee had failed to properly report a donation from marijuana kingpin Helios Dayspring, Lee amended his filing and legally claimed the donation.

“Yes, I did take campaign contributions from many people, some of those included labor organizations.” Lee said. “I’m not going to apologize for that. I’m a union member, as well, in my professional life, but I’m also a professional engineer, and so I do understand the local hire provisions.”

Both Ray-Russom and Lee admitted the agreement will likely drive the project price up.

Austin argued repeatedly, that the agreement would lead to lawsuits and less competition, further driving up costs. On a 2-1 vote, with Austin dissenting, the board then voted to approve the agreement.

“I’m doing what’s best in the interest of the district,” Austin said.

During the meeting, several opponents of the project labor agreement argued that it would end the districts chance of receiving a USDA low-interest loan expected to cover 18 percent of the project’s costs.

“The non-federal entity must conduct procurements in a manner that prohibits the use of statutorily or administratively imposed state, local, or tribal geographical references in the evaluation of bids or proposals…,” said Eric Christen, the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction executive director. “In our legal council’s opinion, applying the proposed project labor agreement to the redundancy project would render it ineligible to receive federal funding. Please be advised that we have a letter ready to go to the USDA if you proceed with the agreement.”


There’s nothing wrong with unions. That’s capitalism and if you don’t like it go to Venezuela. If people freely and voluntarily want to form a union to freely and voluntarily negotiate conditions of a contract then they have the right to do that. If you don’t like unions then you don’t like capitalism.


Yeah, we can all see what the “good old boys” local 805 did for the last bank roll the San Dist had. What kind of person pays to be part of an organization that supports a political party they despise for a pay check? And they call scabs scumbags?


This decision is so bad…the unions lost their effort to impose a Project Labor Agreement at Cuesta College and now they are all out for every government project around. Make no mistake, this limits the number of bids, as only union contractors will bid and 90% of the construction workforce around here is non-union. Less competition means higher prices. They will bring in laborers from all over California since there are so few locally. SLO City will pay a higher price on its water treatment plant and now South County Sanitation will do the same. Um, make that – SLO city taxpayers will pay more and now South County Sanitation District taxpayers will pay more, too. How anyone could deliberately decide to raise the price on a public works project, exclusively to benefit unions, and rob non-union contractors of even the chance to work on a project tin their own back yard, is the height of arrogance and fiscal irresponsibility. They should be recalled!


Here’s where the donations line up.


9/18/18 IBEW $500

9/30/18 Home Builders $200

10/13/18 Central Coast Labor Council $250

11/6/18 So. Cal. Dist. Council of Laborers $1,000

11/12/18 Ca. Laborers Equality & Progress $1,000

12//16/18 Laborers Local 220 $1,000

11/3/18 International Union of Operating Engineers $500

Total $4,450


2/7/18 IBEW $1,000

7/27/18 International Union of Operating Engineers $750

8/20/18 Plumbers & Steamfitters $750

9/14/18 Home Builders $200

9/27/18 Central Coast Labor Council $250

10/17/18 So. Cal. Dist. Council of Laborers $1,000

10/17/18 Laborers Local 220 $1,000

10/20/18 Ca. Laborers Equality & Progress $1,000

10/29/18 Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters $750.00

12/14/18 Sheet Metal Workers Local 104 $975.00

Total $7,675


Uh oh. Ray can claim these unions are being sexist by contributing more to a male campaign than hers.


Wow $8000 entire dollars. That’s almost like the $20k in Russian facebook ads that forced Americans to vote for Trump.


Losing the low interest loan is a non-starter. The CWA becomes null and void if the USDA funds are jeopardized. That single question should have been resolved before any lawyers, consultants and staff spent thousands of dollars in time negotiating and drafting contracts. The time value of the money lost from this delay alone is incalculable.

The supporters of the agreement came in early touting cost savings to ratepayers. Now all parties admit there will be cost increases — resulting in higher rates. The project was supposed to be half this price during the Wallace years, and look what that’s done already to the cost.

The large donations from unions to the mayors just smells like favors. If the mayors believed this was the way to go, they wouldn’t have needed to take those contributions and would have advocated this position in their platforms. They would have gotten the votes they needed based on their position — or not. Most donors are cash, under $99. To hand out huge donations taints the picture.

Stay tuned.


I’m guessing Mayor lee just forced another lawsuit against the government that the taxpayers will pay for no matter what the outcome it.


What a “no-brainer”….did the union money BUY these politicians? WHO doubts this, of course! But the real gem, “I am labor” comment…really? No, you’re not Karen. Don’t see you covered in sweat, out in the elements or toiling like the honorable blue collar workers. Nope.


This is a great benefit for the union. It must delight COLAB. Aren’t they supposed to be pro-labor


We miss Jim Hill.


The labor unions have bankrupt California with their overrun projects and huge salaries and benefits, just say no!