Will your firm be boycotted next?

August 11, 2010

Last month, Browning Construction Co. of San Antonio, Texas, pulled out as GC on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Austin for which ground had already been broken. Browning's decision came in response to pressure from pro-life advocates led by a concrete contractor named Chris Danze, who organized local suppliers, subcontractors, and church groups against the clinic, the fourth such Planned Parenthood facility in the Texas capital.

"God does not want this thing built," said Danze, an owner of local concrete contractor Maldonado & Danze.

He likened the clinic, where contraception counseling and HIV testing would be performed in addition to abortions, as equivalent to the building of concentration camps for the Holocaust.

In a statement to the media, Browning said, "We have requested that the construction contract be terminated because we are unable to secure and retain adequate subcontractors and suppliers to complete the project in a timely manner due to events beyond our control."

The "events" included a telephone, letter-writing, and e-mail campaign to 750 businesses in Austin and San Antonio, urging them to withhold supplies or services for the project. Danze formed the ad hoc "Austin Area Pro-Life Concrete Contractors and Suppliers Association" and got every concrete supplier within 60 miles of Austin to boycott the project.

Danze maintains that there was no harassment involved, even though one subcontractor alone was hit with 1,200 phone calls, many to his home. Many of these contacts were made by pro-life advocates at the instigation of local church leaders.

Three ex-mayors of Austin and several other politicians came out against the boycott, and Planned Parenthood says it will act as its own GC and go ahead with the project. More than a dozen contractors have come forward to say they will take on the 10,000-sq.-ft. job, which is valued at $6.2 million.

Certainly Danze had the right to withdraw his own services and to phone, write, or e-mail Browning with his opinion about the contractor's involvement in the project. Whether his actions in organizing the campaign against Browning constitute undue harassment or even some form of illegal conspiracy will probably become a moot point if the clinic gets built.

This case raises legal and moral issues that could eventually be felt well beyond Austin. Pro-life groups in Texas and elsewhere have been contacting Danze to learn how to apply this tactic to stop abortion clinic projects. Clearly, this will not be the last instance of this kind.

In a larger context, who in the will be next to be targeted for boycott? In today's post-9/11 climate, will you risk losing business if you take on a mosque project for an Islamic group? What about an academic lab where fetus specimens are to be used? Be prepared. The possibilities are frightening.


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