Anti-worker or Pro-Worker? Why Labor Unions are Fighting Over a Housing Hill

More than two dozen men and women clad in hard hats and safety vests filed into a crowded hearing room April 27 to cheer on yet another bill trying to solve California’s housing crisis.

The Affordable Housing and High Road Jobs Act would allow developers to fast-track local approval to build affordable housing where offices, strip malls and parking lots sit right now. But it has quickly become one of the most hotly contested bills in the California Legislature because the labor requirements on those projects satisfy some but not most unions. The bill, introduced by Assembly Housing Chair Buffy Wicks, mirrors multiple bills that died in recent years as a result of squabbling between developers and labor unions.

The men and women in hard hats, however, were carpenters, and so represented something previous bills didn’t have: Support from both developers and some construction unions.

But despite the neon flashes in a sea of suits, the impasse is far from over.

Following the carpenters, a parade of electricians, pipe-fitters, ironworkers and drywallers — wearing union logos but no hard hats — stepped up to the microphone to voice their disapproval. While the state’s Conference of Carpenters, which represents about 82,000 workers, co-sponsored the bill, the Building and Construction Trades Council — an umbrella labor group known colloquially as “the Trades” and spanning almost half a million workers in nearly every other construction industry — remains vehemently opposed. The California Labor Federation, which represents more than 1 million members including the Trades, said they “stand in strong solidarity” with the Trades. 

After several years of gridlock, the rare split within the construction unions presents both an awkward conundrum and a potential for compromise on a proposal that would free up swaths of land for development of affordable housing. It certainly makes it harder to paint bill supporters as anti-labor — a phrase that amounts to slander for politicians in deep blue California.

Longtime Democratic strategist Garry South said lawmakers may have to calculate which facet of organized labor will cause them the most pain during a major election year. And the Trades, which contribute tens of millions of dollars in campaigns and engage in aggressive lobbying, remain a force to be reckoned with. According to a CalMatters analysis of the 2022 races so far, state and local Trades councils have contributed more than $1 million to political candidates while carpenters groups have given more than $800,000.

But as the housing crisis reaches a fever pitch among voters, South said “elected officials will ignore it at their own peril.”

That’s the motivating factor for the bill’s author.

“I don’t want to be the housing chair presiding over inertia and status quo,” said Wicks, a Democrat from Oakland. “Here’s the reality: I and 79 of my other colleagues in the Assembly every weekend go home to constituents who are homeless, constituents who have to live in people’s garages, constituents who are squeezed out of their house, who are living in motels, who are living in their cars, who are being evicted or experiencing foreclosure, or who are barely hanging on. That is simply not okay. And so what that means is building more low-income and middle-income housing. And that’s what this bill does.”

What does the labor language really say?

The bill, which has the support of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, would allow housing that is 100% affordable to low-income households to be built “by right” on areas now zoned for offices, retail and parking. That means skipping many city council meetings that tack on costly delays as well as the state’s premier environmental law many blame for its housing woes. Livable California, a local control group, has already dubbed it “the worst bill of 2022.”

The bill would also allow mixed-income housing, with a minimum of 15% of units affordable to low-income households for rent or 30% of units affordable to moderate-income households for sale, along commercial corridors such as strip malls.

The Carpenters and the Trades are at loggerheads over how much unionized labor developers would have to use to take advantage of the streamlining. The Trades are pushing for language requiring a certain amount of the workforce be graduates of an apprenticeship program, which effectively means union members. That’s common for public works, but unusual for residential construction. 

A 2019 Trades-commissioned study found less than a fifth of construction workers across California were unionized in 2017, a number likely lower in the residential sector.

Developers argue the standard — that at least 30% or in some cases 60% of the workers in each trade for a given project be graduates of an apprenticeship program, most of which are run by unions — is too hard to meet, particularly in areas of the state lacking in apprenticeship programs. The Carpenters agree.

“If you had a standard that can’t be met when you need to move forward on construction then it’s not a standard, it’s a barrier,” said Daniel Curtin, director of the California Conference of Carpenters.

Click here to read the full article at CALMatters

Comments

  1. If CA continues to welcome in illegals maybe the overpopulation will cause the state to break off and sink into the Atlantic? Just joking! As a conservative I am totally in touch with reality.

    • Stan Sexton says

      Yes, where are they going to live? Work? Eat? 8000 a day. Millions coming. Crime should escalate here in San Diego.

  2. When welfare and now abortion sanctuary woos in low-to-no-income individuals to our state, its a no-brainier whats going to happen; no worker-bees, and the low lives of society. Quite obvious this has been the case since the 1970’s.

  3. matthew barone says

    t

  4. Really??? says

    With the national and state demographics if the idiot Dems would change and support a solid border, remove the welfare magnet of “free,” and stop wealth producers from leaving….guess what there would not be a housing deficit.

    Think about it and if you don’t get it you are a Democrat.

  5. PapaBear says

    No vacancies. Hotel California is Full.

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