VAN NUYS, Calif. – A judge Monday denied Costco Wholesale Corp.’s request for a temporary restraining order against a Calabasas-based petition management firm and other organizations that have allegedly sent people without authorization to solicit signatures from customers on various issues at four San Fernando Valley warehouses.
Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Virginia Keeny said lawyers for the warehouse chain had not provided enough evidence showing the one named defendant, PCI Consultants Inc., has participated in the solicitations.
The other groups allegedly involved are referred to as “Doe associations” because their members have refused to identify their affiliation when asked to do so by Costco employees, according to the complaint brought Aug. 3. The judge said there was no urgency justifying the issuing of a TRO against the unnamed defendants and she scheduled a hearing for Sept. 7 on whether a preliminary injunction should be issued.
In a sworn declaration filed Monday, PCI President Angelo Paparella stated that his company provides petition management services, but that its employees do not actually circulate the petitions.
“Rather, when such services were needed, PCI Consultants contracted with signature-gathering firms,” according to Paparella.
In its suit, Costco maintains its primary purpose is to sell its products to members at its warehouses and that it does not invite people to do such things as congregate at the warehouses. Still, various individuals and groups have sought to use the area in front of Costco’s warehouses to speak on a variety of issues, including to solicit signatures for petitions, the suit states.
“Because of the potential for congestion in front of the entrances to Costco warehouses, the possible conflict between those seeking to express their views and the potential for interference with its business operations, Costco has adopted a policy prohibiting all groups and individuals from using its property for expressive activity,” according to the suit, which asks for damages, injunctive relief and a court declaration of the rights of the parties because the solicitors disagree with Costco’s policy prohibiting all groups and individuals from using its property for expressive activity.
The solicitors started arriving at the warehouses in July, the suit states.
“Beginning in July, the solicitors arrived at the Costco warehouses to solicit signatures for petitions, such as `no’ to the Los Angeles Unequal Pay Measure for health-care workers, and have continued to do so on a routine, near-daily basis,” the suit states.
Several female members entering and leaving the Woodland Hills warehouse have said they felt unsafe because of how close male solicitors approach them, according to a sworn declaration submitted by the location’s assistant manager Dave Olson, a Costco veteran employee of more than 25 years.
“Members have complained about 12 solicitors approaching their car windows while waiting in the Costco gas station line and the risk of accidentally hitting the solicitors as they weave between cars,” Olson says.
Josh Trainor, who has worked for Costco for nearly 30 years and is the assistant general manager of the Pacoima store, said the solicitors at his warehouse have attracted counter-petitioners and protesters, resulting in disruptive shouting matches and concerning confrontations.
“When asked to relocate to the parking lot instead of the apron area around the warehouse, the solicitors responded aggressively toward Costco employees,” Trainor says.