VAN NUYS, Calif. – Costco Wholesale Corp. is suing 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.
The Van Nuys Superior Court lawsuit names only one defendant, PCI Consultants Inc., and refers to the other groups allegedly involved 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 Wednesday.
A representative for PCI Consultants did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
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“As a retailer, Costco’s primary purpose is to sell its products to its members who come to shop at its warehouses,” the suit states. “Costco’s invitation does not extend to people to meet friends, be entertained or congregate at the warehouses.”
Despite that philosophy, 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 last month, 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 healthcare workers, and have continued to do so on a routine, near-daily basis,” the suit states.
Solicitors typically set up tables directly adjacent to the warehouse entrance or exit and solicit signatures as members enter or leave the store, the suit states.
At the Van Nuys and Northridge warehouses, the solicitors seek signatures from members by weaving in between cars in the gas station line, creating safety issues, and have also played loud music, engaged in aggressive confrontations with counter-protesters and have made threatening comments to Costco employees, the suit states.
“Costco fears the altercations could escalate, resulting in property damage or personal injury,” the suit states.
The petitioners’ conduct has distressed some Costco’s members, who have complained about their behavior, according to the suit.
Costco has provided the petitioners with a copy of its solicitation policy and asked them to leave, but they have refused, the suit states.
The police have either ignored calls about the solicitors or refused to remove them, the suit alleges.