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Rail car builder calls off Palmdale expansion citing union pressure

Martha Bridegam on
Oct 23, 2014

Local political and business figures have joined Kinkisharyo International in blaming union-linked complaints, including a CEQA appeal, for deterring an expansion of the company in Palmdale. Kinkisharyo currently assembles light rail cars for LA Metro at a temporary plant. The expansion could have made it a major local manufacturing employer for the longer term.

The LA Times reported Kinkisharyo had been prepared to shift some heavy rail car manufacturing work to Palmdale from its main plant in Japan, in a deal worth millions of dollars to the local economy. But a dispute began over a position taken by members and supporters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 11 supporting "card check" unionization for future new hires at the site. The paper reported what happened next was a CEQA appeal against construction of the proposed new plant, filed by activists who included Local 11 members.

The Antelope Valley Times reported that Kinkisharyo withdrew its permit application October 10. It described a group called Antelope Valley Residents for Responsible Development (AVRRD) as the filer of the appeal; The Palmdale Council's October 1 agenda also identifies AVRRD as the appellant.

In a letter posted by the AV Times site, the company's U.S. general manager, Donald Boss, wrote that the project had become "too risky" because AVRRD and IBEW had "refused to withdraw the various appeals they have filed, and have given no assurances that they would not file a court action to object to any final action by your city council." The letter described AVRRD's CEQA objections as "simply a pretext to gain leverage in their attempt to force us to agree to a card check agreement regarding the unionizing of our workforce."

Earlier, on October 7, the AV Times published a statement by AVRRD that in turn linked to a letter by the group's counsel, Tanya Gulesserian of the firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo. The letter, dated October 1, said it sought "to fill the void left" by the City of Palmdale's "failure to perform any environmental review of the Project and thus failing to protect air quality, public health, biological resources and supplies of fresh water." It proposed that Kinkisharyo conduct specified air quality reviews of toxics and Valley Fever hazards; that it either transplant 51 Joshua trees or purchase land in mitigation equal to twice the acreage the project would affect, and that it "acquire a new water entitlement for the Project."

The LA Times reported Supervisor Mike Antonovich led a press conference Oct. 20 to cry foul and seek support from Governor Jerry Brown. The AV Times reported the Antelope Valley Air Quality Management District board also unanimously appealed to Governor Brown to help prevent Kinkisharyo's departure. Kinkisharyo was reportedly planning to move the expansion elsewhere in the U.S. but Maria Elena Durazo of the LA County Federation of Labor told the Times that to do so would violate the company's contract with Metro.

IBEW Local 11 posted a comment on its Facebook page October 14 saying "The company is threatening to leave Los Angeles County as a way to incite elected officials and transit officials into bailing them out." It said the company's contract still required it to create "at least 194 good-quality, full-time jobs in LA County. And it must fully comply with state environmental laws, just like any other company in California."

Al Jazeera America
reported the Kinkisharyo contract followed an effort for a "U.S. employment provision" by the Jobs to Move America project of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE). It described Jobs to Move America as prodding Metro and Kinkisharyo to live up to hiring commitments but did not attribute any role to it in the CEQA complaint.

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