The treatment of José Radzinsky by California’s unions is conflicting to the foundation of America, but his success story of triumphing through adversity is proof that the country’s ideals are still valued.

Radzinsky moved from Uruguay to California in 1981 in pursuit of a free market economy. Instead, he’s been stuck battling organized labor, which has stifled his innovation, dedication and hard work.

Here’s the abridged version of his story:

Settling into his home in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1996, Radzinsky was quoted a price of $200,000 by PG&E to provide electricity in the rural area. Rather than paying the obscene cost, Radzinsky learned how to install solar panels himself. He then installed solar power for his neighbors. It was the beginning of his successful business, Renewable Power Solutions.

The company grew fast, and soon was installing solar power systems on public buildings and helping lead the green movement. And as the business expanded, so did need for a credible training program for the solar industry’s tradesmen. So Radzinsky put together a comprehensive two-year apprenticeship program. In March of 2009, the apprenticeship program became the first state-approved, state-regulated apprenticeship program for the occupation of photovoltaic installer.

But unfortunately, Radzinsky was about to run into a wall of organized labor.
Various local unions began to argue that the training of solar installation workers fell under the authority of the electricians’ unions. Radzinsky was suddenly flooded with hundreds of pages of briefs and exhibits filed by law firms working for electricians’ unions. Soon, every type of labor union began to object to Radzinsky’s program.

Organized labor attempted to exploit a California law (Assembly Bill 921 signed by Governor Gray Davis in 1999), which established a so-called “needs test” that must be passed before a new apprenticeship program is approved, or an existing program can expand. Unions attempt to use this law as a weapon to control who can and cannot have apprentice programs.  They have consistently sought to prevent any competition regardless of its quality or the legitimate need for an expanded effort.  Bills to repeal the needs test have failed, due to the powerful influence of organized labor.

However, in this instance, the immigrant from Uruguay stood up to the unions, stood his ground, and fought to establish a program that will enhance California’s green tech economy and dramatically improve the quality of solar installation professionals. 

The immigrant from Uruguay is still fighting union lawyers who hope to spoil his program.
But for Radzinsky, continuing to push through roadblocks has led to his success. Radzinsky overcame the odds and is now the father of California’s first solar installation apprenticeship program.

PublicCEO talked to Radzinsky to learn more about his success story…

Q: Did you migrate to America for its free market?

A: Definitely. Not only for the free market, but because it was seen as the land of opportunity. I wanted to live in a country where freedom is respected and where you can build a life without being oppressed.

Had you always dreamed of owning your own business?

Well, yes. I have been an entrepreneur most of my life. I have tried to work for others, but it is difficult when you have the entrepreneurial spirit. I always dreamed of having my own business and doing good things for society, my family and myself.

How much time and effort did you put into spearheading this apprenticeship program?

A lot. It’s hard to tally all the hours but I have worked on it for almost a year. It’s not just filling out an application. It’s developing the supporting materials to fulfill the obligation you have taken on. The process takes a long time, especially for someone who is not a native of the United States.

How surprised are you with your recent battle with unions?

I was shocked. I really was. For many reasons. Everybody always told me when I started to develop the program that this was new territory. Organized labor has almost a monopoly on apprentice programs. One of the questions I asked is, “Do I have to be union to start an apprenticeship program?” The answer was no. I said ok, and proceeded. They started to explain to me the laws that exist in California. I asked if I was overstepping into anybody’s territory. They said no, so I continued.

It wasn’t until after the apprenticeship program was approved that everything blew up. I was completely shocked, disappointed and angry because they knew I was doing this. To have me go through the entire process, then tie me down for nearly two years in legalities – lawyers’ letters, files and papers – that probably accumulate to 18 inches on top of my desk, is outrageous and basically tells me that integrity doesn’t exist.

Do you think unions are looking to hold a monopoly on apprenticeship programs?

Yes, that’s how I feel. I feel they can do that, especially in the state of California. They put that law into the books and use it all the time.

What was the first “oh no” moment of resistance from unions?

When I was served with the first 4-½ inches of papers from unions. When I got that package and it had a list of 12 lawyers on the letterhead. That’s pretty scary for a small company like mine. It’s like, ‘Oh my God what’s next? Am I going to lose everything now?”

That was part of the reason why I didn’t hire a lawyer. I felt that they wanted me to go bankrupt on lawyers. Behind the scenes, I think they wanted me to spend so much money. Rather, I decided I was going to use the American constitution.

Do you feel that they have used scare tactics to intimidate you with lawyers and hundreds of pages of briefs in hopes you’d simply back down?

Yes, I strongly feel that. The simple answer is yes.

What is the current state of their roadblock?

After the California Apprenticeship Council (CAC) voted to deny the unions to block my program, my understanding is that if they do anything right now they will have to sue the state of California. I don’t think they can sue me anymore.

Once the CAC approved it as they did, then they are basically going against the state. I was told it wasn’t over and that there would be more coming up.

In all honesty, we are testing the waters. We just filed for the first apprentice with the State of California, again. Once the Division of Apprenticeship Standards approves that apprentice then we will see what other issues they will bring up.

Who is fighting in support of you?

I have received a tremendous amount of support from the Associated Builders and Contractors.

They have been a great supporter by advising me and coaching me in any way that they can.

Do you know of any cases similar to your own? If so, how many?

My understanding is that there are hundreds. I know sheet metal shops have gone through these and carpenters have gone through these.

I can tell you that this is the norm; that this is the standard. Anytime an apprenticeship program is founded, then organized labor will look to crush it. They don’t want people to carve into their programs and cost them money.

Do you understand the position of the unions as to why they have the right to train solar installation workers over you? What is their argument?

No, I don’t understand the mentality other than them trying to keep the monopoly that is such a revenue generator for them. They are saying that no one can train better than they can, that no one can do better work than they can do. It’s so fictitious.

Non-union organizations are in charge of more than 70 percent of the construction industry. It’s not to say that non-union shops don’t have issues with clients, but you hear more about strikes or work not being done to standards or labor violations on big projects that are union-only.

I want to make sure that we are clear. I am not against or for unions. I am for free enterprise and everyone having the opportunity to make an honest living. May the best company win. That’s why I moved to the United States.

Will you prevail and how will it happen? What is the future for your apprenticeship program?

As I see it right now, we will proceed with our training once our apprentices are approved. We hope that our company can now continue to grow. My goal is to have a successful apprenticeship program with employees who are well trained and happy. Hopefully, renewable power solutions can continue to grow.

What is the driving force that pushed you to this success?

I don’t come from money. Everything I have is from working extremely hard. I still work 12- to 14-hour days. The driving force for me is that nothing has ever been given to me and I know what it takes to build something. I think I am a smart person, a hard worker and a fair employer and I want to provide a future for my family, my employees and my community.

James Spencer can be reached at