The South Bay Labor Council and its coalition of 101 unions — more than 100,000 members locally — will not support the controversial ‘strong mayor’ measure that’s revealed a deep rift in the labor movement.
The council’s delegates — which represent all unions affiliated to the labor council — met on Monday and overwhelmingly voted to oppose the proposed ballot measure. The council’s executive board, which comprises of leaders from Silicon Valley’s largest unions, took an identical vote a week ago.
The measure, which would award Mayor Sam Liccardo two more years in office, increase his authority to allow him to hire and fire the city manager and department heads and move mayoral elections to presidential years, has divided the labor community.
The council’s powerful mechanical and engineering trades unions supported the measure, while the city unions most affected by changes at City Hall staunchly opposed. South Bay Labor Council Executive Officer Ben Field scurried to garner support from the San Jose City Council’s progressive wing — particularly the five Latino councilmembers — before the June 30 vote on the measure. The five councilmembers ultimately opposed the measure, which advanced on a split 6-5 vote last month.
The mechanical, engineering and plumbing trades and their lobbyist Tom Saggau, were accused of working out a backroom deal with Field, Liccardo and Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who lobbied in support of the measure.
Saggau said Thursday he was only conveying Field’s position in negotiations — and was not the mastermind behind the compromise. Chavez also denied developing the proposal and said she only lobbied in support of the measure after it was created.
But the city labor unions were left out of discussions, sources said.
The City Council will hash out language for the November ballot measure Tuesday.
The vote on Monday by the South Bay Labor Council delegates puts the construction trades in a precarious situation. Since a majority of the delegates voted to oppose the measure, the group can’t spend its resources to promote it. The delegates get the final say.
“They took the question of what position to take on the measure and voted in a position of opposition,” Field said. “It means no union will support the measure. The fact is that sometimes there is internal disagreement at the labor council.”
San Jose Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco, one of the five lawmakers who opposed the measure, spoke to the delegates Monday before they voted. She said the measure will have a robust opposition campaign — though it’s unclear if the unions will foot the costs.
“I can assure you there’s going to be an opposition campaign. We’re not going to let this one go lightly,” Carrasco said. “There’s no way we are going to let this pass. This is bad for the city.”
Field, who abruptly resigned a week after the measure was debated by the City Council, said he thinks the rift in the labor community can be healed — despite bitter opposition to a measure he pushed for. Field’s last day is Aug. 31.
“We’ve had lots of internal disagreements and we always get past them and this one is going to be no different,” Field said.
When asked whether the unions will spend money to defeat the measure, he was uncertain.
“It’s too early to say whether they will,” Field said.
Contact Ramona Giwargis at [email protected] or follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include responses from Cindy Chavez and Tom Saggau received after publication.