Candidates Get Primer on Labor Issues from Union Members
Candidates for local office heard from union members at a candidate orientation meeting organized by the San Mateo County Central Labor Council and Building and Construction Trades Council August 22 at the IBEW Local 617 union hall in San Mateo. About 40 candidates for City Councils, School Boards and Special Districts attended.
As in past orientations, candidates were given a primer on labor issues from local labor leaders and union members. The Labor Council’s Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Shelley Kessler, explained the role of the labor council as a coalition of 110 unions representing 70,000 workers in the public and private sectors. She said that all issues that affect workers and the community are labor issues. “We are many unions; we are diverse. We are doing what we can to improve the lives of people in our communities,” she said.
SMCLC president Eddie Raymond added that the Labor Council expects candidates and elected officials to be accessible, accountable, and be sensitive to the issues of union members. “Be available and listen to union members,” he said. “Follow through on your commitments and be sensitive to the concerns of your workforce.”
SMCLC Community Services Director Rayna Lehman talked about the Labor Council’s work in providing assistance to union members with re-training, re-employment, and partnering with the United Way and Second Harvest Food Bank programs. “We care about affordable, quality childcare for workers, linking education with job opportunities and union apprenticeship programs, and helping the uninsured get access to affordable, quality health care,” she said.
The Labor Council's Political Director Julie Lind explained the endorsement process through the Labor Council’s Committee on Political Education and told the candidates that the Labor Council could assist endorsed candidates through phone banking and precinct walks. She encouraged the candidates to run effective campaigns and to participate in the Labor Council’s get-out-the-vote efforts.
San Mateo County Supervisor Carole Groom thanked the candidates for running for office during tough times with severe budget constraints. She said she knew that candidates didn’t run for office to cut budgets and services, that they wanted to help people in their communities. She advised the candidates to be honest and truthful and not to make promises they couldn’t keep.
Groom said being endorsed by labor was about trust, and being accountable and responsible. “It’s also a partnership,” she said. “Hopefully it will be a long-term partnership for you working with organized labor protecting working families.” She said if elected and asked to write letters of support for a union issue or get involved in efforts to save jobs, “Don’t forget the folks who helped you get elected.”
“It’s important to listen to the whole story,” she said. “Make sure we have the best county to live in; that’s why you are here and why labor is here.” She also urged the candidates to get involved in get out the vote activities, saying, “Precinct walking is fun.”
Katie Gjertson, Senior Field Representative for the AFL-CIO, told the candidates about the negative impacts of privatizing and contracting out public services. She said privatization leads to a deterioration of services and loss of local control, and came with hidden costs.
“Recent extreme budget constraints have increased pressure on government to privatize since the recession began, but it is part of an on-going trend,” she said.”Anti-government activists have pushed privatization for years as a way to shrink government. The private sector sees privatization as an opportunity to cash in on taxpayer dollars. The recent economic meltdown and failure of major financial companies should have convinced people that the private sector is NOT always the most effective.”
Gjertson pointed out that the private sector is driven by profit, and any money saved by cost-cutting measures, raising user fees and slashing services by a private company that takes over public sector work is not re-invested in services—it is paid out to shareholders, often in other cities or states. “Instead of lowering fees or putting money into improving roads, those cost savings go to the company’s bottom line,” she said.
She also noted that one of the hidden costs of privatization is that when private operators eliminate unions, slash wages and cut benefits, taxpayers end up subsidizing medical care and other safety net services for workers who once had union jobs.
“Privatization often means that the private operator lays off workers with decades of experience and brings in lower-paid workers,” she said. “You lose all of that experience, customer service and a stable workforce. It undermines services and the quality of work done.”
She urged the candidates and elected officials to look to other options before privatizing and said there are many examples of unions and management cooperating to save tax dollars and provide better services.
The candidates were given the opportunity to learn more about specific labor concerns through a series of break-out sessions focused on education, building trades, and the public and private sectors.
Tina Acree, AFSCME Local 829, Firefighters Local 2400 political director Tony Slimick, Sharon MacAleavey of AFSCME Local 829, and Peter Finn, Teamsters Local 856.
Representatives of the Service Employees, AFSCME, Teamsters, and Firefighters unions talked about issues for public sector workers, including the impact of state and local budget cuts, contracting out of public sector work, and consolidation of fire departments in the county.
Firefighters Local 2400 political director Tony Slimick explained that firefighters operate under 12 different memorandums of understanding in the County with various fire protection districts. He said the union supports a County-wide fire department to streamline services and eliminate duplication of services. He said the consolidation wouldn’t cost jobs but would put more firefighters on the streets.
Sharon MacAleavey of AFSCME Local 829 said that elected officials are often told they cannot meet with unions during contract negotiations but the truth is they can meet and listen to unions’ concerns to get the information about the experience of workers and hear their suggestions.
Nick Raisch, Lead worksite Organizer for SEIU Local 521, said that a recent trend that should be resisted is the imposition of terms on workers when an impasse is reached during contract negotiations. “Having contract terms imposed really impacts the morale of the workers,” he said.
Candidates heard about concerns of educators from Diana Hull, California School Employees Association; Jerry Reed, American Federation of Teachers 1421; AFT Local 3267 president Melinda Dart, Joan Barrett Singer from the Sequoia District Adult School, and (not pictured) Greg Gruszynski, Sequoia School District Teachers Association (CTA).
In the education sector discussions, high school teacher Jerry Reed of the American Federation of Teachers Local 1421, and elementary school teacher and AFT Local 3267 president Melinda Dart talked about the impact budget cuts. “In Daly City, in the last ten years teachers have only had two raises—one for 3 percent and the other for 2 percent—while out of pocket costs for medical has gone up,” Dart said.She noted that teachers contribute to their retirement fund and often spend hundreds of dollars every month on supplies to help them be able to provide a quality education for students.
Reed pointed out that even though schools in the district were high performing and had increased test scores, they were still subject to the “program improvement” rules of the No Child Left Behind law.
Diana Hull of the California School Employees Association representing custodians, clerical workers, and instructional aides, said that those positions are the first to be cut to balance budgets. “We have finally reached the end of the road where there’s nothing left to cut,” she said. “So the workers are forced to take furlough days—which is like taking a one-half to five percent wage cut—or a custodian will have to work two job sites. They are wage earners but don’t get overtime.”
Hull said that, “We only hear about ‘the middle class,’ not the working class. Our folks are working class; some of them are the working poor.”
Greg Gruszynski, a Woodside High School teacher and member of the Sequoia School District Teachers Association, asked the candidates to talk to and listen to teachers to understand what is fair for the teachers. He said teachers did not want to see layoffs of the non-teaching staff like custodians, bus drivers, and clerical workers who also contribute to the quality of education. “Don’t use these tough economic times to extract concessions,” he urged the candidates. “We have often given up salary increases to maintain benefits and can’t afford to see them cut.”
Teacher and counselor Joan Barrett Singer from the Sequoia District Adult School pointed out that Adult Ed. has been defunded but is an important bridge between K-12 schools and community colleges for many adults. “We have adult students who have had challenges and need training or classes to prepare for college,” she said.
Reed said that proposals for vouchers—using public funds to help pay for a students’ private school education—and charter schools were a drain on public education funding. “Charter schools should allow collective bargaining and be accountable,” he said. He said they should be held to the same standards as public schools and be required to serve all students regardless of special needs status or limited English proficiency.
Landis Martilla, IBEW 1245; Eddie Raymond, IATSE Local 16; Stan Kiino, Association of Flight Attendants and John Ullrich of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 talked to candidates about concerns of private sector workers.
Union members representing private sector workers talked about the challenges to organizing, and issues in the airline industry. Eddie Raymond reminded the candidates that many of their constituents were employed in the private sector, including some for companies with contracts for services like waste collection. “Public policy sets the standards for wages and benefits that impact private sector workers,” he said. “Appointments you make to Boards and Commissions that oversee facilities like the San Mateo Events Center impact whether they employ local workers and union labor.”
Raymond noted that, “Unionized workers in the private sector are very involved in their communities. Because of their union contracts, they have time to volunteer; they don’t have to work two jobs to get by.”
Stan Kiino of the Association of Flight Attendants, IBEW 1245 Business Representative Landis Martilla and John Ullrich of UFCW Local 5 also spoke about the importance of good union jobs in the county.
IBEW Local 617 president Mark Leach talked about union apprenticeship programs.
San Mateo County Building Trades Council Business Manager Bill Nack, Plumbers Local 467 Business Agent Chris Collins, IBEW Local 617 president Mark Leach, Sheet Metal Workers Business Rep Victor Torreano, and James Ruigomez of Painters and allied Trades District Council 16 spoke about project labor agreements, prevailing wages, pre-qualifying contractors, and union apprenticeship programs. Nack said that the San Mateo County Building and Construction Trades Council includes 26 unions representing 16,000 highly skilled men and women.
“Government has influence in deciding policies that govern development—which development will be built, how to enforce project labor agreements, prevailing wage laws, apprenticeship requirements, and occupational health and safety standards,” Nack said. “Eighty percent of what you will deal with relates to land use and projects; and those projects require skilled workers.”
“We work to educate developers about why it makes good business sense to use union labor,” Nack said. “We provide a foundation for future skilled workers through union apprenticeship programs.”
Collins said that union apprenticeship programs “are a critical foundation for the next generation of skilled union workers.” He noted that many contractors seek out union apprentices and partner with the construction trades unions to get good quality workers. Ruigomez said that prevailing wage requirements prevent out of state contractors from bringing in low paid workers and undercutting the wages of local workers.