About the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction

Construction Trade Unions Lobby Politicians for a Costly and Unfair New Scheme

In 1992, California construction trade unions were given a new scheme for regaining their severely-eroded market share and making extra money on projects. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that governments could act as a “market participant” to negotiate and sign Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) and then require contractors to sign those union agreements as a condition of work.

In 1994, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 for the first government-mandated Project Labor Agreement in California. At the instigation of unions, local governments throughout the state soon followed with their own Project Labor Agreement mandates on public works contracts. These Project Labor Agreements were discouraging bidders, increasing costs, and reducing bid participation from minority and women-owned small businesses.

A Response to the Union Lobbying Campaign for This Bad Public Policy

Non-union and union contractors, business and community leaders, and taxpayer advocates recognized Project Labor Agreements as a looming threat to fiscal responsibility, fair and open competition, and freedom of choice in training in California. In May 1998, state leaders attended a strategic conference in Sacramento to develop a plan to protect fair and open competition in the awarding of construction contracts.

By the end of the year, the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction (CFEC) was incorporated. Its sole responsibility: protect fair and open bid competition on construction contracts through education. When the California Supreme Court in 1999 permitted the San Francisco Airport Commission to continue its Project Labor Agreement mandate, the educational role of CFEC became extremely important to stopping this union favoritism.

Educating California About Project Labor Agreements as Bad Public Policy

In the past 18 years, CFEC has taken an obscure and complicated issue and turned it into an issue that ordinary Californians recognize and overwhelmingly reject as costly and unfair. When California voters had a chance in the early 2010s to establish local fair and open competition laws in their communities, they voted to do so every time. Unions had to turn to underhanded tactics and the union-controlled state legislature to suppress the voter rebellion against government-mandated Project Labor Agreements.

Perhaps the most important asset of CFEC is its tough, experienced team of employees and contractors. Eric Christen became the second executive director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction in late 1999 and remains executive director today. Under Eric’s leadership, CFEC became a leading organization in California (and on occasion in other states) to protect the people of California from government favoritism in the awarding of public works contracts.

Unions Exploit Environmental Laws with “Greenmail” 

Public works projects are not the only targets of unions for Project Labor Agreements. When CFEC was established in the late 1990s, unions were using environmental laws to block power plant permits at the California Energy Commission until energy developers surrendered and signed Project Labor Agreements and Maintenance Labor Agreements. In response, CFEC became prominent for exposing and undermining the union strategy of “greenmail,” that is, abusing environmental laws with the objective of coercing Project Labor Agreements from private developers. The 2001 blackouts in California vindicated CFEC’s concern.

Want to Join the Fight for Fair and Open Bid Competition in California?

The Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction remains strong today as a 501(c)3 organization entirely funded by private contributions. If union lobbyists are targeting your local government or your local private development for a Project Labor Agreement, CFEC is your frontline regional promoter to foster and protect fair and open competition in the awarding of construction contracts. Contact CFEC at (858) 382-2197 or at for more information.

Eric Christen
Eric Christen
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