PALMDALE – Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Tuesday that he’s brokered an agreement between Kinkisharyo International, LLC and labor groups that will keep the light rail manufacturer in Palmdale.
The mediated contract keeps a proposed 250 manufacturing-related jobs from leaving the Antelope Valley as the Japanese rail car manufacturer is now able to expand its assembly operations at its existing space leased at Los Angeles World Airports in Palmdale, according to Mayor Garcetti’s office.
Garcetti, who also chairs the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), said he jump-started stalled talks between the parties to prevent the company’s manufacturing operations for its next order of Metro light rail cars from leaving the county.
“Because we brought both sides back to the table to grind out night and day negotiations with my office, L.A. County is going to see new middle class jobs and an expansion of our manufacturing base,” Mayor Garcetti said. “Creating good, local jobs as we strengthen our local infrastructure is key to my back-to-basics agenda for L.A.”
A labor dispute between the manufacturer and Antelope Valley Residents for Responsible Development, a labor-supported group objecting to the plant for environmental reasons, resulted in Kinkisharyo scrubbing its plans for building a $60 million rail plant at Avenue M near Sierra Highway. The company faced legal challenges filed by AVRRD, which includes members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union Number Eleven (IBEW 11), that threatened to delay the manufacturer’s delivery schedule with Metro.
The proposed 400,000-square-foot rail car plant was expected to create hundreds of construction jobs and nearly 200 permanent high-paying jobs once completed. However, Madeline Janis, director of Jobs to Move America, a coalition of labor and environmental groups, denied that environmental legal action or other union activities were to blame for Kinkisharyo’s decision to pull out of Palmdale. Instead, she argued that Kinkisharyo, a company with nearly $1 billion in taxpayer funds, should make good on its commitment to “create good, green Los Angeles County jobs.”
Garcetti pointed out in his statement Tuesday that the agreement allows Kinkisharyo to expand the current light rail car assembly and testing operations at its existing site in Palmdale to include manufacturing tasks, which will create a total of 250 jobs. The expansion allows the company to fulfill an order for 97 additional cars. Kinkisharyo is currently assembling and testing 78 light rail cars at its Palmdale facility under a 2012 Metro contract.
Donald Boss, General Manager, Program Management, Los Angeles, for Kinkisharyo, said the negotiations were not easy, although the company is now in a better place with labor. “We are confident that as a result of our agreement with IBEW 11, we will continue to do what we do best – manufacture quality rail cars and deliver them on time and on budget,” Boss said in a released statement.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said the agreement makes the Antelope Valley all the more attractive for business investments, especially for the transportation sector.
“The establishment of Kinkisharyo in Palmdale and electric vehicle manufacturer BYD (Build Your Dreams) in Lancaster is making the Antelope Valley a premier destination for Pacific Rim businesses to locate within the United States,” Antonovich said in a released statement following the LA Mayor’s announcement. “The Antelope Valley is now home to the best bus and train manufacturers in the world, and our residents will build high-performing electric buses and high-quality rail cars for the nation.”
When asked about his reaction to Kinkasharyo staying on track with manufacturing jobs in the Antelope Valley, Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford told The AV Times it’s a “win-win.”
“We get to keep Kinkisharyo, we get the jobs, and Kinkisharyo gets an opportunity to get a lot more business from Los Angeles County,” Mayor Ledford said by phone, explaining that the region is becoming a transportation epicenter with Metrolink, light rail, and hopes for high-speed rail in the future. “We believe Kinkysharo is looking for more than just this contract; they have an opportunity, I think, to position themselves as a real Southern California developer/ manufacturer of all types of transportation modes.”
The Los Angeles Mayor’s office said the agreement includes a neutrality agreement, along with a commitment to explore additional skills training and assistance for disadvantaged L.A. County workers.
Marvin Kropke, Business Manager of IBEW 11, expressed satisfaction with the agreement, while thanking Kinkisharyo for its commitment to a better future for workers. “This settlement recognizes the value of good middle class jobs in rail car manufacturing,” Kropke said. “We will continue to advocate for healthier communities and good, green jobs in the Antelope Valley and throughout L.A. County.”
Another term of the agreement provides that Kinkisharyo and the Jobs to Move America coalition explore ways to expand opportunities for disadvantaged L.A. County workers, including military veterans, women and people of color, while also exploring potential job readiness training programs.
In addition, the agreement provides that Metro will work with the coalition to develop new public records act protocols. The LA Mayor’s office said labor and community groups settled a public records act lawsuit and agreed that all environmental challenges are now moot.
Jobs to Move America Director Madeline Janis said the settlement is a win for working families in Los Angeles County, as well as the environment. “Our public transit dollars can go the distance to create high-quality jobs, promote clean transit choices, and generate opportunities for disadvantaged people,” she said as part of Mayor Garcetti’s announcement.
About the authorJim E. Winburn is freelance reporter covering news of public interest. –
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