Fresno - Documents obtained by the public on April 29th from the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board show that Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin inexplicably played a pivotal role in seeking approval from the Obama Administration for the union Project Labor Agreement on the first segment of California High-Speed Rail.
"The backroom wheeling and dealing that led to the union monopoly on California High-Speed Rail construction has remained a mystery up to this point," said Eric Christen, executive director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction. "We were looking in the wrong place. It was apparently the Fresno Mayor and not the California High-Speed Rail Authority that was engineering this sweetheart deal."
The California High-Speed Rail Authority added a requirement to bid specifications for the five pre-qualified design-build consortiums that construction contractors sign a Project Labor Agreement with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California as a condition of working on the project. It appeared as Addendum 8, released in late December 2012, and was disguised with the phony label "Community Benefits Agreement." (See the union agreement here.)
A letter from Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin dated June 19, 2012 to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood sought approval from the federal agency for the California High-Speed Rail Authority to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions that included language similar to a Project Labor Agreement approved in January 2012 for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. (See the Swearengin letter here.)
Federal approval was needed for the Project Labor Agreement because the Federal Railroad Administration had awarded a $2.55 billion grant - funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Obama stimulus package) - to the California High-Speed Rail Authority. (See that federal grant information here.)
In an unusually quick response, the head of the Federal Railroad Administration responded with a letter dated June 29, 2012 indicating that under certain conditions the language in the Project Labor Agreement would be acceptable for a state agency getting a federal grant for transportation contracts. (See federal response to Swearengin letter here.)
"Why is a local elected official dealing with the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to get approval for a state agency to require contractors to sign a union agreement?" said Eric Christen. "This is the most expensive public works project in human history, and the Mayor of Fresno is orchestrating union control of it, without any oversight and accountability of the public."
Christen theorizes that Mayor Swearengin's letter was part of some sort of deal involving unions. "Because the Fresno Works Consortium was also involved in the development of the Project Labor Agreement, it's possible unions were promising to get the High-Speed Rail Heavy Maintenance Facility in Fresno in exchange for Mayor Swearengin's help in getting the Project Labor Agreement, in a way that would avoid direct involvement of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. It certainly wasn't about local hiring, because the Project Labor Agreement does not and cannot contain such requirements."
"Only Mayor Swearengin can answer these questions for a public that was completely in the dark about her letter and other behind-the-scenes deals," said Christen. "It's time for Mayor Swearengin to come clean about how and why she cut so many local contractors and their non-union employees out of this project."