“Unite Here” Union Becomes San Diego’s Leading Environmental Organization

“Unite Here” Union Becomes San Diego’s Leading Environmental Organization

According to its national web site, UNITE HERE represents workers in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, and airport industries.

But one might conclude, after looking at the public activities of UNITE-HERE Local Union No. 30 in San Diego, that UNITE HERE is actually an environmental organization, marketing itself as a much more aggressive alternative to the Sierra Club. It sees dire environmental calamity with every proposed hotel in downtown San Diego.

For the past five years, this union has been prominent in using the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to block or delay proposed hotels. Examples have included two proposed hotels for Lane Field, the San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina Renovation Project, Ballpark Village, and the Phase III expansion of the San Diego Convention Center and the expansion of the adjacent Hilton San Diego Bayfront hotel. UNITE-HERE also lobbied in 2009 and 2010 for an ordinance in the City of San Diego that would allow outside parties to appeal the hotel approval decisions of the Centre City Development Corporation to the San Diego City Council.

Based on settlement agreements and other deals referenced in conjunction with hotel projects where UNITE HERE Local Union No. 30 choses not to object or withdraws its objections, its CEQA concerns appear to be related to union demands for labor neutrality agreements with hotel developers. In addition, its CEQA concerns appear to be related to union demands for construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement as a condition of working on the hotel construction.

The union’s latest action is against the proposed Fat City Hotel Project.

On behalf of UNITE-HERE Local Union No. 30, the South San Francisco law firm of Adams, Broadwell, Joseph & Cardozo filed a lawsuit in San Diego County Superior Court on December 5, 2012 alleging that the City of San Diego, the San Diego Planning Commission, and the Centre City Development Corporation improperly approved the proposed Fat City Hotel Project.

First proposed publicly in March 2012, this project would be a two-tower, 364-room hotel in San Diego’s “Little Italy” district. Parties initially involved in this development were Frank Fat Properties LP and Jonathan Segal (an architect), but the parties now developing the project are FC Acquisition Company LLC, which includes T2 Development and GLJ Partners. (See Fat City Hotels Property Sold, New Developer Takes Over: T2 Development Reportedly Planning a Hilton Hotel – San Diego Union-Tribune – August 28, 2012.)

As reported in the May 30, 2012 San Diego Union-Tribune article Fat City Hotel Approved Over Labor Objections and in the July 26, 2012 San Diego Union-Tribune article Fat City Hotels Project Wins Final OK: Planning Commission Denies Appeal from Hotel Workers, the hotel workers’ union has been pestering the hotel developers for a while:

The final opposition came from Unite Here Local 30, the local hotel workers union. There is no appeal from the commission vote.

Pamela N. Epstein, representing the union, said the project conflicted with city land-use plans, citing a maximum of hotel rooms that would be allowed in Little Italy where the site is located.

“Evidence does not support its designation as a resort hotel,” Epstein added.

But staff said the project complied with city rules and Commissioner Mary Lydon wondered why the union was involved, especially since new hotels mean new jobs.

“Why you brought this forward, to me, it’s a total miss,” Lydon said.

UNITE-HERE Local Union No. 30 claims that the project needs a project-specific Environmental Impact Report (EIR) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Local agencies approved the project under the conclusion that the potential environmental impacts of this project were addressed in a 2006 “Program Environmental Impact Report” for future downtown redevelopment. See the San Diego Planning Commission staff report for the July 26, 2012 meeting concerning UNITE-HERE’s appeal of the Centre City Development Corporation’s approval of the project.

At some point, someone with influence in San Diego needs to shame the leadership of UNITE HERE Local Union No. 30 for its relentless exploitation of the state’s environmental protection laws.

The appropriate questions that reporters and public officials need to ask UNITE-HERE Local Union No. 30: will the union drop its lawsuit if the developers agree to a neutrality agreement or collective bargaining agreement with UNITE-HERE for hotel employees, along with some minor “environmental mitigation” to provide camouflage for the true purpose of the CEQA lawsuit? In addition, is UNITE-HERE also asking the developers to require their contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council?

Kevin Dayton is the President and 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.

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