You may remember VWR International as the now-infamous chemical supply company in Brisbane, California that was bought by private-equity firm Madison-Dearborn, which promptly cut a sweetheart deal to move the company to Visalia. The deal meant the company would recieve numerous public subsidies and tax breaks, including hefty Enterprise Zone hiring credits, which put state taxpayers on the hook to pay for VWR to turn good, union jobs in Brisbane into low-wage, dead-end, no-benefit jobs in Visalia.
VWR employees have been represented by the Teamsters for more than 50 years, and the union has been fighting tooth and nail to stop the company from closing down the Brisbane facility and moving to Visalia. This week, after a months-long legal battle, the workers and the union won an incredible victory when the 5th District Court of Appeals in Fresno reversed a Tulare court’s ruling on the city's approval of a 500,000-square-foot VWR warehouse in Visalia.
The ruling came as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Teamsters and several environmental groups, which argued that the company and city “fast-tracked’ the approval for VWR’s warehouse and did not do a full environmental impact review as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). A major concern raised by the union and by environmental and public health groups was that the company and city did not do their due diligence to study the impact on the community of building a 500,000 square foot distribution center. VWR’s new facility would increase truck traffic and air pollution and would house toxic chemicals, all in a region that already struggles with environmental issues and excessive pollution. The case against VWR and Visalia outlined the ways that they went around state and local laws to get approval of their facility without consideration of public and environmental health.
A lower court in Tulare had previously rejected the case and gave the green light to VWR to continue the project. However, the Fresno court’s decision that came down this week found that the company and city violated state and local laws, and that the city may have illegally provided VWR with a gift of $1.5 million in taxpayer money, violating its own city laws.
This decision clearly puts a check on the arrogance of VWR and its scheme to get around state and local laws to displace workers, and get paid by taxpayers to do it. The President of the Teamsters Joint Council 7, Rome Aloise, stated:
In a region with record air pollution, VWR seems to care about clean air about as much as they care about their employees — which is not much at all.
The lawyer for the Teamsters and other plaintiffs in the suit, Richard Drury, summed up the ruling by saying
Visalia tried to skirt the law. This project was approved without public notice or a public hearing.
The victory also points once again to the importance of laws like CEQA in protecting our communities from corporations that do not want to do their due diligence to avoid harming our communities, environment and public health.