Why California will lose its edge in fight for green jobs creation

An opinion by Kevin Dayton. June 22, 2010.

Republicans and Democrats in state government have seemingly found bipartisanship on one issue: sustaining California as the world's leader in green jobs. But peel away the visionary rhetoric, and the same old union special-interest groups are derailing even this path to economic growth and job creation.

A vivid example of how California will eventually lose its edge in green jobs is illustrated through the experiences of one immigrant who came to California seeking opportunity, but instead learned a lesson about how unions abuse their political power to stifle competition.

José Radzinsky came to America from Uruguay in 1981 after graduating from Universidad de Montevideo. In 1996, he tried to get electricity to his rural home in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He was quoted a cost of $200,000. Instead, Radzinsky learned how to install solar panels to power his house, and then, for his neighbors too. A business was born.

By 2006, Radzinsky's company, Renewable Power Solutions, had grown to 25 employees and was installing solar systems throughout the Silicon Valley. It was among the first solar companies to offer a 15-year workmanship warranty and began installing solar systems on public buildings, such as schools in the Sunnyvale School District.

José's company was on the cutting edge of Silicon Valley's "green tech" and "green jobs" movement, but Radzinsky wasn't satisfied. He felt the emerging industry needed to improve by providing a credible standard training program for its tradesmen.

For years, Radzinsky worked overtime creating from scratch and with his own money a comprehensive two-year apprenticeship program with classroom instruction and on-the-job supervised training. He consulted with staff at the San Jose office of the California Division of Apprenticeship Standards to ensure he met all criteria to establish a legitimate apprenticeship program.

In 2008, Radzinsky submitted to the state his application to train apprentices in his own innovative program. On March 12, 2009, the agency chief approved him to operate the first state-approved, state-regulated apprenticeship program for the occupation of photovoltaic installer.

That's when Radzinsky's troubles began.

First, various local unions of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) filed appeals to reverse the state's approval of the program. They argued that the right to train solar installation workers fell under their jurisdiction as electricians' unions and claimed that the solar installation industry had no need for another program. Then, union lawyers attacked the program standards under the guise of asserting it had various technical shortcomings. Radzinsky was flooded with hundreds of pages of briefs and exhibits filed by union lawyers. And that was just the start.

When the California Apprenticeship Council, which regulates these programs, discussed Radzinsky's apprenticeship program in January, additional trade unions joined the electricians' union in opposition. Unions for the roofers, laborers, sheet metal workers and plumbers all argued that aspects of solar installation actually fell under the jurisdiction of their trades. None of these unions train employees to be solar installers, yet they're all intent on derailing José's valuable and necessary program. Radzinsky is the casualty of the unions' desire to have a monopoly regardless of quality or concern for businesses and taxpayers.

On Friday, members of the California Apprenticeship Council will meet in San Jose to respond to the demands of union officials and their lawyers to suppress Radzinsky's innovative apprenticeship program.

Would such a meeting ever happen in Texas or Arizona? Of course not.

The recommendation of these council members will send a strong message to the state's renewable energy industry about the future of "green jobs" in California.

KEVIN DAYTON is government affairs director for the Associated Builders and Contractors of California, Inc. a non-profit association that supports fair and open competition for public works contracting. He wrote this article for this newspaper.

See the original post in the San Jose Mercury News.