In a stunning turnaround, the California Labor Federation today decided not to endorse incumbent state Sen. Scott Wiener for re-election.
The powerful organization had backed Wiener in the March primary over challenger Jackie Fielder.
But labor groups, particularly the building trades, are furious that Wiener’s latest housing bill, SB 899, includes no provisions protecting union rights in affordable housing construction.
So the federation voted today not to back Wiener in the fall – and while the group didn’t endorse Fielder either, the move leaves a lot of local unions open to working for her.
It’s also a clear instance where the building trades and the progressive housing groups were aligned – and that’s not always the case.
“We are so fractured so often, the land-use folks and the construction trades over building market-rate housing,” one prominent labor leader, who asked not to be named, told me. “In this case, we’re all together.”
Wiener’s bill would allow any church or school to build affordable housing on its property without any local government oversight. But unlike a lot of affordable housing proposals, which require union labor, this bill does nothing to ensure that developers use unionized workers for the projects.
For the past three weeks, leaders of the building trades unions tried to get Wiener to include worker-protection standards in the measure. “We asked him to fix this, and he refused,” Tim Paulson, the executive director of the San Francisco Building Trades Council, told me. “He crossed a line with the building trades. And it’s so sad.”
It’s almost unprecedented for the state labor federation, which represents 2.1 million members in California, to essentially withdraw an endorsement.
Jim Stearns, a longtime local political consultant who is working with Fielder, said the labor group’s decision is “a huge deal. In all of my years as a consultant, I have never seen this happen.”
Fielder, who is a rank-and-file member of the California Faculty Association, told me that “I will always support union power, and I look forward to the day when unions can count on politicians.”
She is now reaching out to local labor leaders who were reluctant to support her when the state federation was with Wiener.
Wiener sent me the following statement:
I’m grateful to the unions that stood with me today — the ones that recognize and remember my long and steadfast support for the labor movement. I have a lifetime 100% voting score with the California Labor Federation. I‘m endorsed by most major unions in California, including SEIU, United Farmworkers, United Food and Commercial Workers, California Professional Firefighters, California School Employees Association, AFSCME, ILWU, National Union of Healthcare Workers, Northern California Carpenters Regional Council, Teamsters Joint Council 7, UPTE-CWA, and more. I was a very early supporter of Schools and Communities First, perhaps the highest labor priority. I was an early and steadfast supporter of AB 5. I just co-authored a major revenue measure, sponsored by labor, to save public services. I’ve steadfastly stood with labor and with working people my entire time in public life, and I will always do so. It’s a basic core value for me.
The California Labor Federation’s action today is disappointing and short-sighted. It sends a powerful message to Legislators that you can stand strong with Labor for many years, but it’s not enough. The bill at issue — SB 899 — is about nonprofits building low-income housing. The bill fully complies with agreements we’ve made with the Building Trades over the years on labor standards. We even sent the bill language to the Trades before we introduced it, and the Trades signed off on the bill and said they had no objection. Three months later, the Trades changed their position, which they are entitled to do. Once the Trades communicated that new position to me, we immediately began to engage to try to reach a resolution. Rather than engage, the Trades quickly escalated, running vile digital ads attacking me and going after my Labor Fed endorsement. I have a longstanding relationship with the Trades, going back 15 years. We have worked hand-in-glove on many issues of concern to workers. I strongly support project labor agreements and ensuring that construction workers are paid middle class wages. This current situation is tragic and not reflective of my long support for working people. I hope that cooler heads prevail moving forward.
Paulson told me that “the San Francisco trades have never run a negative ad about Wiener in San Francisco.” However, the state building trades group did run ads, one of which was withdrawn after complaints that it had anti-Semitic content.
Labor leaders told me that Wiener tried to “divide the labor movement.” He’s clearly not being conciliatory now.