Union leaders call for ousting of Santa Clara mayor
David Bini, executive director of The Santa Clara and San Benito Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, speaks at a news conference to endorse Anthony Becker for Santa Clara mayor on Oct. 28. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    A major union workers group is throwing its support behind a Santa Clara official running to replace current Mayor Lisa Gillmor—who advocated for prevailing wages not to be paid on a major development in the city.

    The Santa Clara and San Benito Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, a group that represents more than 35,000 workers across nearly 30 unions, announced their endorsement of Councilmember Anthony Becker on Friday.

    The group’s decision to endorse Becker comes in the wake of San José Spotlight reporting that revealed Gillmor wrote a letter earlier this year lobbying Gov. Gavin Newsom to help a major real estate firm save money on a massive project months before it spent money to support her reelection.

    The developer, Related Companies, is building an $8-billion mixed-use project on 240 acres of city-owned land. In her letter to Newsom, ​​Gillmor advocated that Related should not be required to pay prevailing wages to workers on the job.

    “Gillmor has chosen to prop up the interests of one of the largest developers in the country, over that of her own constituents,” said David Bini, executive director of the trades council.

    Bini acknowledged Gillmor has had union labor support in the past, but her letter to the governor and other recent actions have raised alarms with workers fighting for wages that can keep up with increased costs of living.

    “Our workers simply cannot afford her leadership,” Bini said. “We need a mayor who will stand up for labor in the face of massive developers’ corporate interests, because Lisa Gillmor has proven to us that she will not.”

    Gillmor did not respond to requests for comment.

    A painters union requested in 2020 that the California Department of Industrial Relations director deem the Related development as a public works project, which would require workers be paid prevailing wages. Gillmor’s March 4, 2022 letter to Newsom opposed the union’s argument and characterization of the project.

    Becker told San José Spotlight he is honored to receive the endorsement, but is surprised because Gillmor has been backed by union labor groups in past elections.

    “Labor has been her bread and butter,” Becker said. “But I know the letter recently to the governor was a big concern to a lot of the labor unions and was a concern for myself, as well.”

    Will Smith, a business agent for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 332, said Gillmor’s letter to Newsom felt like “a big slap in the face” to union workers. The union represents about 3,600 workers across Santa Clara County and Silicon Valley.

    “It’s almost like having the rug pulled out from underneath your feet,” Smith told San José Spotlight. “We feel like she’s talked a good game, but when it comes time for the rubber to hit the road, she hasn’t helped us.”

    Smith said while the first phase of Related’s project is set to use union workers, he’s concerned that if it is not deemed a public works project, then the latter half of the work will be done in a “low-road fashion,” with out of town or exploited laborers being paid less than the prevailing wages would require.

    In addition to the letter to Newsom, Bini said revelations reported by San José Spotlight that Gillmor’s property management company failed to pay prevailing wages to contractors at an affordable teacher housing site, Casa Del Maestro, have rankled union workers.

    “For many years, she has valued her company’s profit margin over our workers’ ability to earn a living,” he said.

    Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

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