Union Threatens to Block Apple, Inc. “Spaceship” with Environmental Lawsuit

Perhaps the Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West deserves grudging praise and respect for refusing to bow to American idols.

Few groups have the gumption to challenge or criticize Apple, Inc., one of America’s most admired corporations. Apple generally gets away with commercial activity that the Left would slam relentlessly if practiced by other large corporations.

For example, Apple is proceeding mostly unhindered with its plan to build a massive complex called Apple Campus 2 in Cupertino, a city located in Silicon Valley and within the San Francisco Bay Area. The region is notorious for traffic congestion and anti-growth sentiment.

Apple Campus 2 ("the Spaceship"), as depicted on the web site of the City of Cupertino.

Apple Campus 2 (“the Spaceship”), as depicted on the web site of the City of Cupertino.

Local fans of Apple commonly refer to the edifice – first proposed to the Cupertino City Council in 2011 by Steve Jobs – as “the spaceship.” An article in the October 16, 2013 San Jose Mercury-News explained why a “2.8-million-square-foot behemoth beside Interstate 280” that would normally be tangled in significant controversy is able to move forward without excessive hassle:

During a public-comment session, most speakers wholeheartedly supported Apple, not surprising since Cupertino is a veritable company town, with Apple offices spread far and wide. “As my mom used to say, ‘don’t bite the hand that feeds you,'” longtime resident Carol Baker told the council. “If we don’t honor Apple with this building, they’ll leave. There’s no reason for them to stay here and be loyal to a community that doesn’t support them. But if they left, it would be a disaster for the city.”

Not many corporations get to be “honored” in a San Francisco Bay Area community with “a four-story ring of curved glass housing up to 14,200 employees.” Apple gets that privilege.

There is a sour note among the hymns of praise, however, and it comes from a union. The Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW) wants to organize the employees of Security Industry Specialists, which provides security services for some of the celebrated high-tech firms of Silicon Valley – Google, eBay, Twitter, and Apple.

SEIU-USWW has targeted these high-profile companies using the traditional strategies of a union corporate campaign, including protests at shareholders’ meetings, paid advertising and public relations, social media, informational pickets, letters from local politicians, and filing unfair labor practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board.

Now the SEIU-USWW is turning to what might be the most powerful weapon in the union organizing arsenal in California – “greenmail,” or environmental permit extortion through exploitation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The union submitted a short warning letter dated July 19, 2013 in response to the City of Cupertino’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Apple Campus 2. It then submitted another letter dated October 2, 2013 in response to the Final Environmental Impact Report. The Silicon Valley Business Journal recognized what was happening:

What about CEQA? Is anyone going to challenge this thing on environmental grounds? Actually, maybe. But don’t look at the Santa Clara/San Benito Building and Trades Council (the group, headed by Neil Struthers, is a vocal supporter of the project, which is using union labor.)

Buried in public comment documents is a response from an attorney for SEIU-United Service Workers West. That union has protested on behalf of security guards stationed at the Google campuses in Mountain View. (They are actually subcontractors of Security Industry Specialists.)

“…USWW is a stakeholder in this Project, and worker and labor organizations like USWW have a long history of engaging in the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) process to secure safe working conditions, reduce environmental impacts, and maximize economic benefits,” wrote Gideon Kracov, an attorney for the union. (Kracov is leading a CEQA challenge of an expansion at Los Angeles International Airport on behalf of SEIU-USWW.)

Kevin Dayton, who heads up Labor Issues Solutions and blogs about what he calls union “greenmail,” called the comment “a shot across the bow.”

“Anyone can reasonably speculate that the union would use CEQA as leverage to get security workers organized,” he told me.

At the October 15, 2013 Cupertino City Council meeting at which the Apple Campus 2 project was approved, a representative of the SEIU-USWW expressed an ominous warning in front of a sea of supporters.

Is the threat credible? As referenced in the Silicon Valley Business Journal article, the Los Angeles attorney who is handling the Apple 2 Campus environmental comments for SEIU-USWW filed a CEQA lawsuit on behalf of SEIU-USWW on May 29, 2013. That lawsuit challenges the approval of the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) Specific Plan Amendment Study based on alleged violations of CEQA. The SEIU-USWW is trying to organize employees of companies such as Aviation Safeguards and Menzies Aviation that provide contract services for airlines at LAX.

The Service Employees International Union- United Service Workers West has 30 days after the City of Cupertino files its Notice of Determination (that the city council approved the project) to file a lawsuit against the city based on alleged deficiencies in the environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Will the “iconic” Apple spaceship be stopped by professional union organizers for security guards?

Sources

Anticipation High for Apple Spaceship Approval, But Questions Linger – Silicon Valley Business Journal – October 14, 2013

Cupertino Council Clears Huge Apple ‘Spaceship’ Campus for Liftoff – San Jose Mercury-News – October 16, 2013

SEIU-USWW Letter on Draft Environmental Impact Report for Apple 2 Campus

SEIU-USWW Letter on Final Environmental Impact Report for Apple 2 Campus

SEIU United Service Workers West v. City of Los Angeles et al.

Security Industry Specialists – Union Facts (Corporate Site)

Security Industry Specialists: Another Bad Apple Contractor, But Right Here at Home – Stand for Security Blog of SEIU – February 21, 2013

USWW Security Officers Stand Up to SIS Security Contractor at Apple Shareholder Meetingwww.seiu-usww.org – March 2, 2013

Apple Security Officers Demand Company’s Support in Organizing – Labor’s Edge Blog of California Labor Federation – March 5, 2013

SEIU Protests at GoogleMountain View Voice – June 6, 2013

Security Officers, Netroots Nation Activists Call on Google to Help Fight Silicon Valley Income Inequality – Stand for Security Blog of SEIU – June 20, 2013

Outside the Gates: Unions Versus Big TechSF Weekly – July 3, 2013

Security Officers Seeking to Reduce Income Inequality Praise Tech Company’s Decision to Choose Socially Responsible Contractor (Yelp) – Stand for Security Blog of SEIU – September 12, 2013

Unions to Protest Outside Twitter TomorrowSF Weekly – October 9, 2013

Protesters at LAX Allege Unsafe Working Conditions, Unfair Labor PracticesDaily Breeze – March 21, 2012


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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