SEIU deal could undermine progressive coalition


I stumbled on the oddest deal on a union-gossip website, but I've checked it out and it's really happening -- and it could be a total trainwreck for progressive politics in San Francisco.

The deal, still in draft form, is an "agreement on political unity" between SEIU Local 1021, one of the most progressive unions in the state and part of the voice of the left in San Francisco, and SEIU-UHW, a much more moderate union that has been taken over by the international. (One example of the tension between the two: Local 1021 has been and remains a strong supporter of Sup. John Avalos, and UHW leader Leon Chow is challenging him in District 11, something that even Randy Shaw, who increasingly disagrees with my politics, finds distasteful.) UHW has attacked the hotel workers union and split with most of the rest of labor around CPMC.

The way the deal would work is this: Both unions would choose a candidate. If they disagreed, the head of the international, Mary Kay Henry, would appoint a mediator to essentially break the tie. That person could unilaterally "direct the joint endorsment of one candidate."

It would be a radical change -- for the first time, the members of Local 1021 would cede final control of their endorsements to the international.

Ed Kinchley, a co-chair of Local 1021's political action commitee, told me he finds the proposal troubling. "I'm not at all interested in having the international have a say in who we endorse," he said. "Decisions about endorsements should be in the hands of our members."

He said he's all in favor of trying to find areas of agreement between the two SEIU locals -- "but do I want to have something enforced on us if we can't agree? No."

The agreement specificially exempts the Avalos-Chow race and it calls for UHW to endorse Eric Mar and David Campos. Campos is basically unbeatable, so that doesn't matter. The nod from UHW to Mar will be helpful to him.

But overall, this could dilute the progressive force of one of the most important voices in local politics. Local 1021 is more than just a city employee union; it's a part of the progressive coalition, part of the left in this town. Forcing a joint endorsement with a union that is distinctly not part of the progressive coalition can only undermine Local 1021's historical role.

And it's odd; as the Stern Burger with Fries blog puts it:

If you’re Local 1021, why would you sign this deal? Local 1021 is a big political player in San Francisco with lots of members, money and foot soldiers. [UHW leader Dave] Regan has shown again and again that he’s hostile to the priorities of Local 1021’s members. Basically, he’s bedded down with the business community. So, if you’re [Local 1021's Roxanne] Sanchez, why would you agree to this so-called "unity" deal? It hands over control of Local 1021's political destiny to Regan and some SEIU bureaucrat in DC. Plus, when push comes to shove, everyone knows that [International head] Mary Kay Henry is going to back Regan over Sanchez. If Local 1021 accepts this deal, they're basically declaring unilateral disarmament as far as their political future.

I couldn't reach Sanchez and her phone isn't taking messages. But I spoke with Chris Daly, the former supervisor and now Local 1021 political director, who told me he wasn't there when the deal was negotiated. But he said "we've had many internal discussions on this" and that "the policy of speaking with one voice makes sense."

When I told him I thought this was a progressive fumble, he said: "I disagree with your analysis."

The proposal is scheduled to come before the SEIU 1021 COPE June 7.

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