Settlement negotiations in a lawsuit over project labor agreements in San Diego appear to be dead, according to a newly filed court document filed by workers advocacy group Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction.
On March 19, attorneys for the coalition asked a judge to reject the city's answer to the lawsuit because it comes unannounced and after two years of litigation and settlement talks. According to a subsequent filing, the answer contradicts previous legal arguments from the city.
"Despite the Stipulation and the Court's Order, the City filed an Answer to the Writ Petition on March 9, 2015 — almost two years after the Writ Petition was filed and served on the City, and after litigating and mediating the case for nearly two years, and in violation of the Stipulation and Order," reads the March 19 court document. "Accordingly, the City's untimely and unauthorized answer, which is also not drawn in conformity with California law, is hereby objected to by [the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction] and should be stricken in its entirety….”
At issue is a 2012 project labor agreement reached in the then-planned $520 million expansion of San Diego's convention center.
Representatives from the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction accuse former mayor Jerry Sanders, his chief of staff Julie Dubick, then labor leader and current state assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, and construction company Clark Hunt of violating the state's collective-bargaining laws through back-room negotiations on private email accounts.
Emails obtained by a public records request show that Sanders and Dubick were eager to find a resolution to lawsuits filed by labor unions against the city for not having labor agreements in place for the expansion project. In the remaining days of Sanders’s term, he turned to Dubick to hash out an agreement with Gonzalez. In a September 21, 2012, email from her private gmail account, Dubick spelled out the terms:
Sanders would support the labor union's position and ask Clark Hunt and labor unions to reach a project labor agreement similar to that used on Petco Park. Sanders would also ask that the council appoint a labor-friendly person to the convention center board. In exchange, Gonzalez agreed to dismiss all lawsuits against the expansion plans and lobby the California Coastal Commission to support the expansion.
A deal was reached and Clark Hunt was awarded the contract.
In March 2013, after repeated failed attempts at obtaining additional emails from Dubick's private email account, the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction sued the city.
The city failed to file an answer. Instead, deputy city attorneys filed opposition papers to hold upcoming hearings. The sides then entered into settlement negotiations.
In July 2013, rumors of a proposed settlement reached U-T business reporter Lori Weisberg. According to emails obtained by the Reader through a public records request, Weisberg emailed city attorney Jan Goldsmith on July 2012, 2013, asking for information on a potential deal.
"I'm hearing rumblings that a settlement agreement has been signed between the city and the [Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction] that has a number of conditions, including doing away with the convention center [project labor agreement]. The planned court hearing today on the [Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction's] lawsuit was postponed because of the progress made in reaching this agreement, I understand."
Goldsmith responded minutes later, debunking the claims. "Not true. The hearing was in response to a public records act request and city is trying to get documents. Not sure where you got your rumblings, but that is not even close.”
"I realize the hearing was about getting documents. But in the meantime, I was told there was an agreement that includes nine points, one of which is to do away with the [project labor agreement]. While I understand it's not part of the released public documents as part of this court case, I was hearing about this settlement to do away with the [project labor agreement] and that the city met this week with Clark Construction on this issue."
Goldsmith again rejected the so-called "rumblings."
"No agreement. I don't know the point of the rumor is, but there is no agreement."
But since that time, the sides have been in negotiating. Hearings have been postponed. The city, coalition, and construction company met behind closed doors in an effort to settle. Any progress was thwarted when the city filed the legal answer on March 9. Attorneys for the coalition were shocked to read the answer.
"Given that the City was given an opportunity to respond to the Writ Petition, and did so in 2013, that was the only response the City was entitled to file. The City should not be allowed to file the Answer and assert defenses contrary to its conduct in this litigation, as it violates the parties' stipulation and the Court's order, and [Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction's] reliance on contrary positions the City has already taken in this litigation."
Filing the answer means the lawsuit will continue. The city will continue to pour resources to defend the case. The hearing on whether to reject the city's belated answer is scheduled for October of this year.