Union Exploits Environmental Law to Secure Organizing Advantage

Union Exploits Environmental Law to Secure Organizing Advantage

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) used the California Environmental Quality Act(CEQA) to out maneuver Japanese light rail manufacturer Kinkisharyo to secure a card-check provision to organize employees.

Kinkisharyo won a $900 million dollar contract from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 2012 to build a $60 million facility in Palmdale to manufacture and test electric rail cars. However, the IBEW and its allies stymied Kinkisharyo efforts by using a forty-year old environmental law. 

“As a union official, I believe in the right of everyone to organize for better pay, benefits and working conditions,” Marvin Kropke an IBEW executive wrote in a letter to the Los Angeles Times. “But our recent talks with Kinkisharyo have been about environmental issues — namely, its failure to ensure the proposed manufacturing plant will be built in a way that does not harm residents of Palmdale.”

However, according to the Times, the environmental concerns that the IBEW ostensibly threatened litigation over were never addressed in their new labor contract with Kinkisharyo. The unions obvious ploy worked by frustrating Kinkisharyo to allowing the union to get their way in lieu of being held up in expensive and time consuming litigation.

On the other hand, the Japanese company was not entirely innocent in its plans to build its manufacturing facilities. Palmdale city officials said that Kinkisharyo “appeared to cut corners on CEQA and were prepared to build a factory without much study of its potential impact.”

Kinkisharyo let Mayor Garcetti know that its progress has been slowed to the point that they were ready to build the train cars outside of the State. Garcetti who was influential in crafting the deal stepped in which led to the deal that was hammered out on Tuesday.

The bottom line is that the IBEW got its labor deal and can organize by sign-ups (“card check”) instead of a secret ballot. Kinkisharyo although no longer faces environmental lawsuits will not be building a new facility in Palmdale due to the extensive delays. They did agree, however, to shoehorn their operations in to existing facilities in Los Angeles County and would “explore ways to expand opportunities for disadvantaged L.A. County workers.” Mayor Garcetti got a feather in his cap by keeping the project in Los Angeles County.

Gary Toebben, President and CEO of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, wrote in Fox&Hounds that there are some real losers in the deal. He says that although Kinkisharyo will bring 250 jobs to L.A. County, “the company will not be building the new $60 million facility that would have added to Palmdale’s tax base and provided employment for many construction workers. The IBEW was successful in securing a card check provision for its members, but hundreds of construction workers lost the opportunity to build the new 400,000-square-foot building.”

Moreover, according to Toebben, labor and other special interest groups take advantage for themselves, not the environment, by filing CEQA lawsuits. He is hoping that in 2016 Governor Jerry Brown and lawmakers make it illegal to use CEQA for non-environmental reasons.