Union trying to organize Apple workers takes issue with SF store design 

click to enlarge Union Square
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.f. Examiner
  • A Levi’s store in Union Square is slated to become an Apple store soon, but a union trying to organize Apple employees says the project hasn’t followed the proper procedures.
Apple Inc.’s plans for a boxy showpiece store in Union Square received a less-than-stellar welcome in June 2012 — among other issues, a plan to remove the Ruth Asawa fountain from the site at Stockton and Post streets was unpopular. Since then, the company has gone back to the drawing board and is moving through The City’s planning process.

But last week, an unlikely obstruction fell in Apple’s way. It came in the form of a letter from a union — the same one that happens to be waging an organizing campaign for security guards in Silicon Valley — that wants to make sure the company is held to the same standards as everyone else.

It’s unclear whether SEIU United Service Workers West’s efforts are genuinely about making sure Apple abides by all San Francisco planning standards or just part of its effort to organize Apple subcontractors, or both.

The union contends that Apple is being treated as a special case because Board of Supervisors President David Chiu requested a planning code change to allow the building to exceed size limits.

“San Francisco should not give special favors to a large technology firm at the expense of a legitimate public process for its residents,” SEIU researcher Jason Oringer said.

Chiu’s office, however, said legislating for specific projects is common.

Aside from concerns about the environmental and historic impacts of the project, the union’s Jan. 9 letter noted that an exemption from full environmental review, through the California Environmental Quality Act, would “short-circuit” an evaluation of the project’s impacts, including “assuming legal and adequate compensation and benefits for the increased numbers of both direct and contracted employees working at the site.”

The union wrote a similar letter to the Cupertino City Council — the planned location of Apple’s new headquarters — with almost identical concerns about a full environmental review.

“I’m not trying to say that we don’t have a campaign to organize [security] officers, but I’m also saying things are a bit more complicated than ‘tit for tat; we want this and we are going to do that,’” said Denise Solis, the 40,000-member local’s Northern California director.

Thus far, Planning Department staff members say the process has been moving forward like any other, and they expect it to go through environmental review. Any decision on impact fees is far off.

Chiu’s staff said that while they take the union’s concerns seriously, Apple is not getting any favors.

“We are definitely taking a close look at the CEQA issues raised by SEIU,” said Judson True, a Chiu legislative aid. “We think that this really should be treated just like any other project.”

Apple told The San Francisco Examiner that it was preparing a response, but it was not ready by press time.

Chris Daly, an SEIU Local 2121 political director and former San Francisco supervisor, said he is not party to tactical conversations at his sister union, but said they shouldn’t be faulted for using any tactics when up against tech giants like Apple.

“If you are on the little guy’s side, and don’t take advantage of every opportunity, you are going to get squashed,” Daly said. “So kudos to USWW for taking on one of the most powerful corporations in the world.”

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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