"Given the history of the Presidio, I think there's a very good argument that California laws don't apply."
It's easy to extrapolate that nothing that's been passed in Sacramento or at City Hall would apply to the Presidio, including the recent universal health care plan passed by the Board of Supervisors and the paid sick-leave that voters approved.
The upshot: the author of the bill establishing the Presidio park, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is a big favorite of organized labor, may have created a place where private employers can freely flout state and local laws designed to protect workers.
Lieutenant Jeff Wasserman of the US Park Police, which has exclusive jurisdiction over the Presidio, said, "We only have to follow federal laws. However, the US attorney has in the past asked us to adhere to state laws simply because they think it's the right thing to do."
One of Wasserman's examples involved a California law that speed limits may only be adjusted based on recommendations from a traffic engineer, which was established to prevent cops from setting speed traps. To Wasserman's knowledge, California is the only state with this restriction, and it's been extended to the Presidio. "The US Attorney felt that it was fair that if the surrounding streets followed it, we should too." He added that juvenile arrests in the Presidio have also stood up in local courts because the federal laws are so weak in that regard.
Two dozen companies contacted by us were asked questions regarding employment protocol, and all said they paid San Francisco's minimum wage or better and insisted they followed both federal and state labor laws. The largest employer in the Presidio, LucasFilm, did not respond to the questions.
Carsten Sorensen, CEO of the Orphanage, said, "We follow the letter of the law. We were told by our attorneys, being in the Presidio, we fall under the federal labor law."
He did say, "Of course we want our employees to be safe and do whatever we can to make sure that happens. There's no chronic issue of people who are dissatisfied with the working conditions."
But in responding to the lawsuit, his company didn't even try to defend its practices. Instead, Judith Droz Keyes, a lawyer with the firm Davis Wright Tremaine, argued in a Jan. 24 letter that "California has no jurisdiction either to legislate or enforce its laws within the federal enclave. The fact that the Orphanage is a private company leasing space within the Presidio makes no difference."
The Presidio Trust the semiprivate agency that manages the park did not respond to requests for comment, and it's unclear how the outfit treats its own workers. Discrimination based on sexual orientation, for example, is not a part of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity laws, but it is a part of California's, and even the Presidio Trust's own personnel manual mandates it.
To require anything definitive and absolute would take an act of Congress to mandate the Presidio adhere to state or local ordinances. We tried to reach Pelosi's office to ask about it, but she didn't return our calls.
In the meantime, Sommers said, "The Presidio Trust could insist that all vendors abide by California state labor laws. Then large employers in the Presidio would have to treat their workers like citizens of California." *
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