Uncivil unions - Page 3

What the fight over Larry Mazzola says about the progressive and labor movements and their uneasy relationship
Larry Mazzola

The union's biggest allies in City Hall are the exact same six supervisors who voted against Mazzola.

So why this standoff? SEIU, Unite Here, and other progressive unions share the Labor Council with the building trades, which are traditionally more conservative and friendly with downtown and, these days, starting to really get desperate for work. "We have thousands of guys on the verge of losing their homes and families," Theriault said. "We are desperate."

That was one reason the San Francisco Labor Council last year cut a deal with Lennar Corporation to back Proposition G, which lets Lennar develop more than 10,000 homes in the southeast sector of the city. Daly, who wanted firmer guarantees of more affordable housing, was livid over the deal and has been at odds with the council ever since. But Daly said labor's undercutting of progressives goes back even further and includes the early reelection endorsement Rosselli's UHW gave Newsom in 2007, which helped keep big-name local progressives out of the race.

Tenants groups, affordable housing advocates, and alternative transportation supporters form the backbone of progressive politics, but on development projects, they often clash with the trade unionists who just want work. And labor expects support from the progressive supervisors. As Mazzola pointed out, "It was labor that got most of those guys elected."

But labor has its own fights on the horizon. SEIU fears deep city job cuts if the Mayor's Office can't be persuaded to start supporting new revenue measures. NUHW is getting challenged by SEIU for every member the try to sign up. And Unite Here's hotel contracts start expiring in six months, reopening its battle with downtown hotel managers.

"We're going to be in a real war with some of those employers," Casey said. Yet he said its actually good time for the otherwise distracting fights with SEIU over how nice to play with big corporations. "I embrace this fight because I think this is exactly the struggle we need to have in the labor movement."

But the Mazzola fight was one that neither side relished.


The Board of Supervisors chambers was filled with union members flying their colors on April 14, but the progressive supervisors were just as unified, voting 6-5 to reject Mazzola. All that was left was the political posturing, the decision of what to do next, and the fallout.

"I am disappointed and surprised by the board's action," Sup. Sean Elsbernd (who voted for Mazzola and publicly called it "a sin" to deny him) told us, refusing to confirm the private joy over the outcome that many sources say he has expressed. "What shocked me is a majority of the board turned their back on labor."

Daly admits that the standoff hurt progressives. "I'm not sure who came up with it, but it's certainly true that the Sean Elsbernds of the world were able to take full advantage of the situation to drive a wedge between unions and progressives," Daly said.

Yet Daly noted how ridiculous is was for Sups. Elsbernd and Michela Alioto-Pier to be publicly professing such fealty to labor while opposing revenue measures that would minimize layoffs. "At the same time the plumbers were attacking me, I was sponsoring paid sick days," Daly said. "It's the six members of the board that are the most pro-labor who voted against Larry Mazzola."

Politically, Elsbernd says the progressives misplaced their hand. "I think the easy middle ground for them was to reject Mazzola and send it back to committee," Elsbernd said. Others echoed that point.