Photo by Sam Hodgson
A view of the NASSCO shipyards from Barrio Logan.
City staff is expecting hundreds of people at City Hall Tuesday for the big vote on the future of Barrio Logan.
Some of those attendees might have motivation to show up beyond simply wanting their voices heard.
Voice of San Diego has obtained internal emails from Continental Maritime of San Diego—one of the shipyard’s three major employers —offering to pay up to 50 employees for their time and provide them lunch and dinner if they attend the Council hearing.
The Council will be considering two versions of a community plan update for Barrio Logan. One plan is preferred by the city and Barrio Logan residents. The other is being pushed by the local shipbuilding industry. The emails show Continental Maritime might compensate employees who attend the meeting.
Doing so may have broken the spirit or letter of state or federal laws outlining how employers can direct their employees’ political behavior.
The internal emails, dated last week, were between managers attempting to organize a bus that would take employees to City Hall for the council’s vote on Barrio Logan’s new community plan.
“Round up 50-75 employees to attend … need to let them know to leave knives and tools here in the yard,” one email reads.
The same email also says some of the employees should be asked to make public comment, including some Spanish speakers.
“Identify 5 to speak for ~1-2 minutes on the 17th (some in Spanish),” it says.
A later email makes clear the employees will be compensated for their time.
“Any employee who attends will be paid the appropriate OT/DT to attend,” it says. “Lunch will be provided and an evening meal will also be provided if the meeting runs late.”
The later email also said the directive to find “50 plus production employees” to attend the hearing “came down from the Leadership team.”
It says the Tuesday City Council meeting is “regarding the Barrio Logan project and how it relates to the potential effect of moving shipyards out of the area.”
Neither of the versions of the plan under consideration by the Council includes a proposal to move shipyards out of the area.
The emails do not indicate whether the offer for compensation for attendance was ever extended to employees. The emails are only between management-level staff planning to extend such an offer.
Southwest Strategies, a public affairs firm retained by the maritime industry to lobby against the city’s proposed plan, deferred requests for comment to Dewey Youngerman, a manager with Continental Maritime of San Diego, who one of the emails lists as an author. Youngerman did not respond to requests for comment.
Douglas Werner, production manager for Continental Maritime who is listed as the sender of one of the emails looking to coordinate finding employees willing to attend the hearing, would not confirm Monday whether he wrote it.
“How did you receive the email?” he said. “It doesn’t sound familiar right now. I can’t confirm anything right now, I’m in a meeting.”
He did not respond to other requests for comment.
Chris Wahl, president of Southwest Strategies who’s acted as an industry spokesperson throughout the community plan fight, declined to comment.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on a new planning vision for Barrio Logan that would re-zone certain areas in an attempt to separate manufacturing activities from residences.
The two sides – basically residents and industry – have reached compromises on most of the plan’s details, but one sticking point remains: whether suppliers that don’t do actual manufacturing should be allowed to open in an eight-block area just north of Harbor Drive.
Industry members fear the vote over whether to allow suppliers to operate north of Harbor Drive sends a signal that the shipyard itself will eventually be targeted.
It’s unclear whether offering to compensate employees for their time to attend the council meeting is allowed within California’s labor code.
It’s illegal for contractors to use federal funds for lobbying.
“They can sidestep the law by creative accounting, but it’s not ethical,” said Craig Holman of Public Citizen, a D.C.-based nonprofit consumer rights advocacy group.
Continental Maritime has received $48.7 million in federal contracts since 1999. Voice of San Diego has no evidence the company has spent federal funds on lobbying.
If someone is paid by his or her employer to speak on an issue during public comment, that’s considered lobbying, according to Holman. An employee could still voice his or her opinion of the plan without payment, just like anyone else.
The emails between management don’t suggest any particular positions employees who attend the event should take, only that they should be compensated for their time if they attend.
Daniel Flood, vice president and general manager of Continental Maritime, who is CCed on some of the emails, has signed industry-wide letters sent to Councilman David Alvarez, who represents the area, opposing the city’s plan.
The relevant sections of the California labor code say employers shouldn’t have a “rule, regulation or policy … controlling or directing, or tending to control or direct the political activities or affiliations of employees.”
The code also says employers can’t fire or threaten to fire employees over political activity.
Continental’s emails only discuss compensating employees for their time spent attending the meeting. There’s no mention of punishment of any kind for not attending, or for any other behavior.
Dan Eaton, a lecturer on business ethics and employment law at San Diego State University, said there isn’t much case law interpreting the relevant sections of California’s labor code.
“The safest course for employers is generally not to do anything that looks like they’re asking employees to take a political position with which the employee might not agree,” Eaton said. “Conditioning pay on engaging in political activity could be viewed – depending on your point of view – as either a carrot or a stick, because you’ve deprived the employee of the opportunity for the pay if they don’t adopt the company line.”
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