San Mateo County Unions Meet with Local Legislators
Assemblymembers Phil Ting and Kevin Mullin, State Senator Jerry Hill, and San Mateo County Central Labor Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Shelley Kessler.
The San Mateo County Central Labor Council hosted a breakfast meeting with State Senator Jerry Hill and Assemblymembers Kevin Mullin and Phil Ting March 4 to discuss Labor issues and concerns. Hill and Mullin are among the 37 state legislators with 100 percent pro-Labor voting records; Ting’s voting record is 96 percent pro-Labor. Senator Hill said he respects Labor and that, “It isn’t difficult to support Labor’s bills—we are on the same side and want workers to be treated well.”
Union leaders told the legislators about some of the issues affecting their members and asked them for support.
San Mateo County Event Center
Sign and Display Local 510 Business Representative Joe Toback said Local 510 and other unions have been working for 25 years to try to get the San Mateo County Event Center to adopt pro-union policies. He said the Event Center now is a haven for non-union contractors who are brought in by organizers of the trade shows and expos held there. “We need help,” he said. “We are facing a series of shows coming up that use non-union contractors, with several unions’ members losing work.”
Senator Hill said the County Board of Supervisors need to send a message to the trade show sponsors to encourage them to use union labor and pay prevailing wages at the County-owned facility. SMCLC Executive Secretary-Treasurer Shelley Kessler said the coalition of unions that includes Local 510, the Teamsters Local 2785, Electrical Workers (IBEW 617), Musicians Local 6, and Stagehands (IATSE Local 16) have been trying to work with the Events Center and not picket the events. She said the Events Center vendors can afford to use union labor.
Building Trades Concerns
Carpenters Local 217 Business Representative Ed Evans said union construction workers are also losing out because of the underground economy. “Out of state contractors bring in workers from out of the area and don’t pay a fair wage, or pay for Workers Comp,” Evans said. “City Councils will say they asked the contractors to pay prevailing wages, but there is no enforcement.” Hill said the state is losing money in uncollected payroll taxes that could help balance the budget. Hill said he is on the Senate Workforce Development Committee and would try to help.
Operating Engineers Local 3 Business Representative Michael Ginter told Hill that state workers who maintain roads haven’t seen a wage increase for four years. Hill said they do dangerous work and that he wasn’t sure why the state had not given them a raise.
San Mateo County Building Trades Council Business Manager James Ruigomez asked Hill, Mullin and Ting to reach out to legislators from other parts of the state who also have building trades union members to urge them to vote for good building trades legislation.
Assemblymember Mullin said he had authored 25 bills, many of which are focused on expanding the democratic rights of voters. “I support erring on the side of inclusion, rather than what we see in other areas where voting rights are suppressed,” he said. He said it is important to register new voters and to make sure votes are counted. Mullin noted that 60,000 votes were excluded in 2012 because of issues with signatures. He said the election by all-mail ballot held by San Mateo County last November was successful and voter turnout had increased among youth, Latino and Asian voters. “San Mateo County is leading the way in democracy reform,” Mullin said.
Mullin also reiterated what has been another main theme, saying, “The central question is ‘how do we share the prosperity?’ We have low unemployment and wealth being created, but also poverty. We are on the front lines regarding income disparity and need to invest in workforce development and rebuilding the middle class.” Mullin called for more investment in transportation, including Caltrain, and pointed out that the Bay Area Peninsula and Silicon Valley are, “an economic engine for the entire state.”
Assemblymember Phil Ting said he agreed with Mullin that maintaining the middle class and unions is important. He said his work is focused on education, including reforming how City Colleges are accredited. “City College is a pathway to the middle class,” he said. Ting said another key issue is building affordable housing on public/city-owned land in San Francisco. He said his efforts to speed up the environmental review process to build a new arena in San Francisco for the Golden State Warriors helped get the project approved and lead to lots of jobs for the building trades.
Education and Public Sector
High School teacher and American Federation of Teachers Local 1481 member Jerry Reed said the state’s Local Control Funding Formula was not delivering on the promise of increasing funding for the Jefferson Union High School District. He said the LCFF money is only $180,000 of the District’s $146 million budget. Reed said it is difficult to keep good teachers in the district because salaries are lower than in districts with higher income residents. “The problem is getting worse as we lose students to Summit Charter School,” Reed said. “Declining enrollment means less funding.”
Mullin said his father, former teacher and Assemblymember Gene Mullin, “used to say that South San Francisco is a training ground for teachers, who then move to wealthier districts in south county.” Mullin said the Legislature “started to equalize funding, but it’s an ongoing process. We will see some equalizing of funding. I voted for LCFF to bring the low funded districts up, not to drag others down. We need to equalize the funding and bring salaries up.” Jerry Hill said more housing for teachers needs to be built, and pointed to the development planned for the Millbrae BART station as a project that includes housing affordable for middle class workers. Ting said the state directed funding to districts with large numbers of immigrant or non-English speaking students where the funding is most needed, but suburban districts have also benefited because they have more money and more control over how it is spent. He said the suburban districts can lure good teachers with higher salaries.
AFSCME Local 829 Business Agent Nadia Bledsoe urged Hill, Mullin, and Ting to oppose bills that require public sector unions to publish their budgets and contracts. “We are transparent and accountable to our members,” she said. The legislators said the Republican-sponsored bills would not go anywhere.
Responding to comments about the need to give In Home Support Services workers a raise, Assemblymember Ting said, “The Legislature supports increasing IHSS funding but the governor does not. We had to work with the Republicans to get the two-thirds vote for the additional money that is in the budget now.”
IBEW Local 617 Business Manager Mark Leach said as a member of the County’s housing task force, he sees apartment owners and property management companies dominate meetings and speak against rent control or rent stabilization. “They defend profit; we defend people,” he said. “Speculation is driving the agenda, while non-profit organizations, labor and the community are shut out.” Leach said many units are kept vacant on purpose to be rented short-term through AirBnB. “They call it disruptive,” Leach said. “We call it illegal.”
Mullin said he has a bill to empower local governments to mandate percentages of below market rate housing for new rental projects. “In Redwood City, it is all market rate housing,” Mullin said. “We need to do something for folks who don’t make six figure salaries. We need state money, but the Governor vetoed a bill to raise taxes [to fund affordable housing]. He needs to wake up.” Mullin said the Legislature also needs to look at ways to streamline the approval process for new housing to get it built faster. Ting added that even if the approval process is sped up, “it will still take five to seven years to have the housing available.” Ting said he will stay focused on the issue and listen to union members’ concerns.
Senator Hill said Labor is powerful in Sacramento, but that the Apartment Owners Association, Real Estate industry, and California Building Industry Association form a powerful trifecta that turns out to meetings to oppose rent control and other tenant protections. “We have to counter their market-based argument and keep the pressure on,” Hill said. Carpenters representative Ed Evans said cities should be required to pre-qualify contractors, which will chase the under achieving bad contractors away.
Hill said the governor won’t support bringing back redevelopment funding and Mullin noted that a two-thirds vote in the Legislature is required to raise fees that could be used to fund housing development. “The governor is not inclined to help raise taxes,” Mullin said. “Labor needs to pressure the governor now that there is a surplus. Affordable housing is underfunded and we need to be aggressive now, because when the economy declines, it will be lost.”
SMCLC Executive Secretary-Treasurer Shelley Kessler said Bay Area union members want local efforts to raise the minimum wage to continue, even if there are state ballot measures to raise the minimum wage statewide. “Given the high cost of living in our region, we need to increase the minimum wage higher, and sooner, than the ballot measures would do,” Kessler said. “We can’t wait until 2020. We need a higher minimum wage and living wages to lift people out of poverty.”
Mullin said he agreed and is worried that the statewide measures could preempt local action and become a cap on wages. “Here where the cost of living is high, how do we help promote living wages at the local level?” Mullin asked. “I support the local efforts. Not enough attention is paid to the cost of living [that is different in different regions].” Mullin said cities need to play a role and make sure that the state measure doesn’t hurt areas where a higher wage is required. Ting said, “We’ve done it in San Francisco. I support the state measures and local measures. A lot of education is needed on this issue.” Hill commented that, “We are a unique area and need to help our workers. It’s not the same here as it is in Manteca.”
- Paul Burton