Jon Healey with the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board hit the nail on the head last week in his column about how IBEW, the electrical workers union, used a threatened environmental challenge under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to secure a card-check provision from Kinkisharyo in Palmdale. Then, once the IBEW had that assurance, CEQA was no longer an issue.
Mr. Healey provided a thorough history of this project so I will not go into the same degree of depth. The short version for this Business Perspective is that Kinkisharyo was the successful bidder for a $900 million rail car contract with the Metropolitan Transportation Agency and the company announced that it would build a new $60 million manufacturing plant In Palmdale to produce the rail cars. Because of the delays caused by IBEW’s CEQA lawsuit, Kinkisharyo had to shoe horn its operations into its existing rental space and will no longer be building a new manufacturing plant in Palmdale.
While the company will still be providing 250 jobs in L.A. County at the manufacturing plant, it 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.
Construction workers were thrown under the bus by IBEW and their allies in their efforts to organize the Kinkisharyo plant. These construction workers could have been employed at the Kinkisharyo work site this holiday season and be using their wages to buy presents for their children.
CEQA is one of the most well intended laws ever passed by the California Legislature 42 years ago. Unfortunately, over the years, special interest groups like labor and many others realized that they could gain an advantage for themselves, not the environment, by filing a CEQA lawsuit. The losers have been the taxpayers and consumers who paid more than necessary on construction projects and thousands of middle class workers like those who should be constructing the Kinkisharyo plant this holiday season.
The Legislature can help California’s taxpayers, consumers and middle class workers by eliminating the opportunity to use a CEQA lawsuit for non-environmental reasons. It should be a high priority next year for Gov. Brown and members of the legislature.