California Unions Masquerade as Community-Based Environmental Groups

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a labor issue. That’s why unions are prominent opponents of any amendments to CEQA that would restrict or prohibit using the law to achieve objectives not related to environmental protection.

Phony Union Tree HuggerUnions routinely use CEQA as a tool to pressure public agencies and private developers (or their agents) to sign collective bargaining agreements, project labor agreements, maintenance labor agreements, labor neutrality agreements, and other union contracts. Some of these agreements even include lump-sum payments to union-affiliated organizations.

Massive objections under CEQA to Initial Studies/Mitigated Negative Declarations and Draft and Final Environmental Impact Reports can delay a construction project and increase costs of environmental review and project development. If a public agency or private developer is still resisting the union demands after the governing board for the lead agency approves the Final Environmental Impact Report, unions may challenge the agency’s environmental review in court. This litigation can delay the project for years and increase costs.

There is a way to avoid the delays and cost increases. As soon as the public agency or private developer agrees to the union demands, the objections to the environmental review disappear, get withdrawn, or are “mitigated” with a mild settlement agreement. Some developers are experienced victims and agree at the very beginning of the CEQA process to sign a labor agreement in order to avoid costly, time-consuming hassles.

This practice is called environmental permit extortion, although colloquially it’s called “greenmail” because it’s exploiting environmental laws to “blackmail” the owner of a proposed project into giving up something of economic value and/or its negotiating position with employees and contract employees. Of course, defenders of the practice regard it as “social justice.” Under their perspective, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a more effective law than the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to “level the playing field” against corporate control of capital.

Which Unions Are Active in Objecting to Projects Under CEQA?

Some unions such as the Carpenters, the Laborers, UNITE-HERE, the SEIU United Service Workers West, the California Nurses Association, and the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) tend to identify themselves as the party making the CEQA objections. Others such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the Sheet Metal Workers, and the Plumbers and Pipefitters prefer to hide their public identity behind the names of unincorporated front groups that sound like local neighborhood grassroots opposition.

There are several groups in the state that hire lawyers to object to projects under CEQA with absolutely no identity whatsoever beyond a phony generic name and a simple web site. Some or all of these groups may be union front groups. In particular, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) tends to be very stealthy when it engages in CEQA actions to stop Walmart stores.

When to Become Suspicious of an Alleged Environmental Group Objecting to a Construction Project Under CEQA

How do you know if CEQA objections are probably coming from a union organization?

  1. The organization objecting to the project is not involved in development or implementation of environmental policy or activity on a state or local level.
  2. A web search of the organization finds nothing.
  3. The organization is unincorporated and has no legal identity.
  4. The individuals affiliated with the organization have no history of public involvement with environmental issues; for example, there is no record of the individuals speaking at meetings of public agencies or writing letters to the editor of the local newspapers.
  5. A web search of the individuals affiliated with the organization finds the names in on-line union newsletters.
  6. The organization submits objections at the very last minute, demands extensions to submit comments, and demonstrates no interest in reaching a compromise with the public agency or developer.
  7. Union officials and lobbyists are attending public meetings as part of the environmental review process but not making any statements.
  8. The developer admits that union representatives have contacted its executives to discuss negotiations for labor agreements.
  9. The first written communication to the agency about the environmental review (for example, a request for public records after the first public notice under CEQA) includes the names of unions involved with the organization.
  10. Objections come from law firms with a history of representing unions on environmental concerns.

Flush ‘Em Out: The Real Union Identities of 25 Environmental Front Groups

Here’s a chart of some environmental organizations that are actually union front groups.

Group Name and Link to Document Real Identity
Antelope Valley Residents for Responsible Development Palmdale residents Kathy MacLaren, Ira Lockshin, Fidel Granillo, David Sazegar, Maurice Washington, Walter Andrew, Cari Bailey, and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11 and their members and families and other individuals that live and/or work in the City of Palmdale, Antelope Valley and Los Angeles County.
Brentwood Residents for Responsible Development Brentwood residents Jaime Gonzalez, Chad Andrews, Dustin Cabihi and Charles Knox, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 302, Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 159, Sheet Metal Workers Local 204, and their members and families and other individuals that live and/or work in the City of Brentwood and Contra Costa County.
Coalition for Responsible Development Plumbers and Pipefitters Union, Local 447, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union, Local 340 and Sheet Metal Workers Union, Local 162 and their members and their families and other individuals who live and work in the City and County of Sacramento. Petitioner Brian Lujan is a member of the Coalition for Responsible Development who lives in the City of Sacramento approximately 2 miles east of the Project site. Petitioner Gary Krula is a member of the Coalition for Responsible Development who lives in the City of Sacramento approximately one mile east of the Project site. Petitioner Frank Albert is a member of the Coalition for Responsible Development who lives in the City of Sacramento approximately one mile north of the Project site.
The Coalition for Responsible Equitable Economic Development (CREED LA) Sheet Metal Workers Local 105, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11, Southern California Pipe Trades District Council 16, and their members and their families who live and work in the City of Los Angeles. Individual members of CREED LA and its member organizations include Thomas Brown, Shomari Davis, Luther Medina, and John Ferruccio, who live, work, recreate and raise their families in Los Angeles.
Coalition for Responsible Mammoth Development James Bailey and Perry Brown, and California Unions for Reliable Energy and its members and their families.
Concerned Dublin Citizens An unincorporated group of concerned citizens, Robert Klein (a member of the group), and Carpenters Local Union No. 713.
Emeryville Residents for Responsible Development International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 595, Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 342, and Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, and their members and their families who live and/or work in the City of Emeryville and Alameda County.
Fresno County Citizens for Responsible Solar Fresno County residents Jeff Taylor, Carrie Taylor, and Vaughn Laymon, and California Unions for Reliable Energy (“CURE”) and its local union affiliates and the local union members and their families that live and/or work in Fresno County.
Gilroy Citizens for Responsible Development Craig Simmons, Mike Conti, Eric Colemen, William Bradley, William Culbertson, and John Sandoval, and groups including Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 332, and Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 393, and their members and their families who live and work in the City of Gilroy and surrounding areas.
Hanford Residents and Workers for Responsible Development Clint Champlin, Antony David, Bryan Wilson, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 100, Plumbers and Pipefitters, Local 246 and Sheetmetal Workers, Local 162.
Milpitas Coalition for Responsible Development Residents Ricardo Bauzon, Tot V. Tran and Albert Thompson of the City of Milpitas, Plumbers and Steamfitters, Local 393, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 332, Sheetmetal Workers, Local 104 and their members and their families and other individuals that live and/or work in the City of Milpitas.
Monterey County Residents for Responsible Development Monterey County residents, such as Manuel Ramos, Robert Greene, and California Unions for Reliable Energy (“CURE”) and its members and their families and other individuals that live and/or work in Monterey County.
Napa Coalition for Responsible Development Napa County residents including Brett Risley, David Dias, and Daniel Huss, and Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 343, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 180, and their members and their families and other individuals that live and/or work in Napa County.
Oakley Coalition for Responsible Development Residents of the City of Oakley, including James Fessenden, Patrick Jensen, Hershel Barton, George Seligman, Daniel Gutierrez, Robert Howard and Virgil De La Grange, UA Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 159, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 302, Sheet Metal Workers, Local 104 and their members and their families and other individuals that live and/or work in the City of Oakley and Contra Costa County.
Placer Citizens Against Gridlock Robert Bell, Ricky Williams, and Steven Bonner.
Petaluma Residents for Responsible Development  Mitch Clarey, Frank Cuneo, Richard Kenney, Roger Burk, the Sonoma, Mendocino, and Lake Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, its affiliated local unions, and their members and their families who live and/or work in the City of Petaluma and Sonoma County.
Redwood Citizens for Responsible Development Vic Torreano, a resident of Redwood City, the Building and Construction Trades Council of San Mateo, and the Council’s members and families who reside, work, and/or recreate in Redwood City.
Richmond Residents for Responsible Development Timothy Doyle, Donald Drown, Fynrare Fletcher, Andrew Harris, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 302, Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 159, Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, and their members and their families who live and/or work in the City of Richmond and Contra Costa County.
Safe Fuel and Energy Resources California (“SAFER California”) “Participating unions,” Ian Ostrov, who lives and works in the vicinity of the Project, Gene Sewell who lives and works in Arroyo Grande, California.
Safe Fuel and Energy Resources California (“SAFER California”) “Participating unions”…the members represented by the participants in SAFER California live, work, recreate and raise their families in Solano County, including the City of Benicia.
San Benito Residents for Responsible Development San Benito County residents, such as John Barber, Wallace Barnes, James Brown, Miguel Bustos, Bryan Daniel, L. Earl Davis, Randall Dike, Heath Guaracha, Richard Hodges, Valentin Ivanov, Andres Laureano, Steven Luiz, Jose Martinez, Robert Rovella, Gilbert Sanchez, Charles Schlesinger, Jaime Urzua, and California Unions for Reliable Energy (“CURE”) and its members and their families and other individuals that live, recreate and/or work in San Benito County (collectively, “San Benito Residents”).
San Diego Coalition for A Better Convention Center San Diego County resident Billie Johnson, the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council, and UNITE HERE Local 30, and their local union affiliates and union members and their families who live, recreate and/or work in the City of San Diego and San Diego County.
San Jose Residents for Responsible Development City of San Jose residents Mark Ross, Daniel Kiefer, Eddie Maxie, Conrad Pierce, Jeffrey Funston, Michael Smith and William Serpa; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 332, Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 393, Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, and their members and their families; and other individuals that live and/or work in the City of San Jose and Santa Clara County.
Santa Clara Residents for Responsible Development David Clark, R.C. Crawford, Phillip Francisco, Victor Galvez, Matt Hancoc, Ricci Herro, Gregory Small, Robert Stuhr, Corey Quevedo, Scott Thomas, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 332, Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 393, Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, and their members and their families and other individuals who live and work in the City of Santa Clara and Santa Clara County.
Sunnyvale Residents for Responsible Development An unincorporated association of individuals and labor unions; City of Sunnyvale residents Jack X. Jones, Cheryl Pollock and Bob Rule; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 332, Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 393, Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, and their members and their families; and other individuals that live and/or work in the City of Sunnyvale and Santa Clara County.
Sutter Coalition for Responsible Development Sutter County residents including John Coots, Danny Fennel, Ian Trotti, Jerrick Upton, Derek West, United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry (“UA”) Local 228, UA Local 447, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 340, Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local 162 and their members and their families, and other individuals that live and/or work in Sutter County.

 


Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.

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