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By Joyce Cutler
Legislative efforts in California to punish contractors that bid or work on a proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall are hitting a wall of their own, but a protest campaign to convince businesses to stay away from the project is just getting started.
Activists took to an Oakland, Calif., residential street to build a mock wall in front of the home of a contractor who is listed on the FedBizOpps.gov website as an interested potential bidder.
“I think that one of the reasons to take this action right now is that we’re on the verge of so much attention being put other places and meanwhile, companies are moving toward federal dollars that are going toward physically building implements of hate,” Pete Woiwode with Bay Resistance, a network of 50 social justice, labor, faith, and community organizations, told Bloomberg BNA.
The campaign is getting underway at a time when state and local legislation that would prohibit awarding contracts to wall-bidding contractors and require pension funds to divest from such companies has largely stalled after being introduced in the spring to much fanfare. Measures in the state legislature and proposals in San Francisco and Los Angeles are slowly moving through deliberative bodies. And the state bills won’t make any headway for at least the next month as the legislature went out on its summer recess July 21. Berkeley and Oakland, however, passed their ordinances.
That many of the proposals aren’t sailing through isn’t necessarily surprising given no progress is being made on the wall “and it seems unlikely” it will progress, University of California Davis law professor Thomas Joo said in a July 20 email to Bloomberg BNA. “Health care, the Russia investigation, and the travel ban are more pressing and/or visible issues.”
But California may be leading the way in preventing the wall from being built. “It doesn’t seem to be playing out elsewhere with the same degree of intensity. California and localities in California seem to have pushed this farther than other states,” Dave Raymond, president and CEO of the American Council of Engineering Companies, told Bloomberg BNA July 21.
Bay Resistance Network’s action launched a broader campaign calling on companies to drop their bids for the project. Activists in the coming weeks plan a series of actions targeting other San Francisco Bay Area contractors who submitted bids or expressed interest in bidding. About four dozen contractors in California are listed on the federal website as showing an interest in the project, including Los Angeles-based Tutor Perini Corp. and Graybar Electric Co., which is based in St. Louis but has about 20 locations in the Golden State.
“Our hope is this will spark actions from people all across the country and we’ll be following up with a website that’s going to list out all of the contractors and how to take action toward them and encourage them” to sign a pledge promising not to bid, Woiwode said July 19.
CPM Logistics LLC, the company of the contractor targeted by activists in Oakland, says in a statement on its web page that it “has no interest and has never had an interest in bidding on the proposed Border Wall project. Like the rest of the nation, we are tracking the project’s progress only.”
The organizations that are part of the Bay Resistance Network include faith, immigration rights, and youth groups, the Service Employees International Union, and UNITE HERE Local 2, “and each of the folks coming from these organizations felt like this was a moment to take action,” Woiwode said.
Bay Resistance’s actions dovetail with California state and local moves to untangle themselves from investments in companies that bid on the wall and those contractors seeking government business.
Raymond said the efforts may be misplaced. “It’s one thing for localities or state governments to penalize or even bar firms based upon illegal activity. But this is not an illegal activity, and furthermore, it’s an activity sanctioned by our federal government,” Raymond said July 21.
Assembly Bill 946 would require the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and California State Teachers’ Retirement System to divest pension fund holdings in companies that win wall-related contracts with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
A.B. 946 has turned into a two-year bill, giving its sponsor and interested parties more time to work on language and logistics.
Senate Bill 30, which prohibits the state from awarding or renewing contracts with those businesses that bid on the proposed border wall, passed the Senate, but its July 12 hearing in the Assembly Accountability and Administrative Review Committee was canceled by the measure’s author.
“California is trying to do everything that it can to protect and to make safe and welcome the people who are here in California,” said Assemblymember Mark Stone (D), whose district includes Monterey County, where 30.1 percent of the population is foreign-born and Santa Clara County where 34.1 percent of the population is foreign-born. “And so it seems appropriate for us to not spend California public money on investment in California on organizations that are working against our interest and doing something as absolutely crazy as building that wall,” Stone, the Assembly Judiciary Committee chairman, told Bloomberg BNA July 19.
Proposed ordinances in San Francisco and Los Angeles were introduced in March and remain in committee. Oakland and Berkeley passed their ordinances the same month.
The lead sponsor of San Francisco’s measure, Supervisor Hillary Ronen (D), said in a July 22 email, “Given that funds for the wall were not yet included in the Federal budget, we slowed down the timeline for consideration of this ordinance.” A committee vote could come in September, she told Bloomberg BNA.
Associated General Contractors opposes the California legislation as violating open and fair bidding processes, AGC CEO Tom Holsman told Bloomberg BNA.
The association, whose members include Skanska USA and Hensel Phelps, is telling lawmakers that “while this may serve a social cause that we don’t comment on, it has a real world impact on companies and their employees in terms of curtailing their ability jobs and contribute to the economy,” Holsman said July 19.
For the American Council of Engineering Companies, “our member firms are engineering firms that shouldn’t have to choose between working for the federal government or working for California government entities,” Raymond told Bloomberg BNA. ACEC’s members include CH2M Hill Inc., Stantec Inc., and WSP USA.
“No firm should have to make such choices because of any conflict of laws,” Raymond said.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org
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