The California city of Palmdale was ready to roll out the red carpet this summer when a Japanese company agreed to build a $60 million factory on a city-owned, vacant parcel on the southwest side of town — but now the company is taking its project out of state and critics say union greed is to blame.
As many as 300 people were slated to work at the 400,000-square-foot plant, painting and wiring light rail cars under a huge contract with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It was a coup for Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford, and a plan that seemed to suit Kinkisharyo International, which last year moved its U.S. headquarters from Boston to El Segundo, Calif.
But a newly formed environmental group — which critics say is a front for a local union — had other ideas.
The “Antelope Valley Residents for Responsible Development,” a group backed by the International Brotherhood Workers Union Local 11, produced a 588-page appeal claiming that construction of the proposed factory would violate state environmental laws, by, among other things, kicking up spores. What the union really wanted, according to Kinkisharyo officials, was clearance to organize the plant without any interference from the company. When Kinkisharyo officials balked, the project suddenly became a potential environmental hazard.
Kinkisharyo, the El Segundo-based U.S. subsidiary of Kinki Sharyo Co., is currently assembling 78 light rail cars for Metro, with delivery of the first car expected this month. The company has exercised an option to build an additional 97 cars under a 10-year, $891 million contract with the MTA. For now, the company is doing the work from a hangar in Palmdale. But after delays the company has said have cost it $2 million, Kinkisharyo is looking out of state for a site to build its plant.
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