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Uniting Together for the Labor Cause

Labor, in the form of Michael Zucchet, Lorena Gonzales and Eric Banks came to the San Diego Democratic Club to ask for help from the LGBT community.  Gonzales, Banks and Zucchet, representing the San Diego & Imperial County Labor Council, Service Employees International Union Local 221 and San Diego Municipal Employees Association respectively, spoke to the Club’s monthly membership meeting about the scapegoating currently being heaped on American Labor locally, as well as nationally.  Along with some good natured one-upmanship, the trio presented a sobering picture of the state of labor negotiations with the City and County of San Diego as well as Sacramento and nationally.

Gonzales kicked off the discussion by reminding the crowd of the continuing close ties between Labor and the LGBT community.  She stated that, “When we go to MLK events, people frequently forget that Dr. King was also a labor leader assassinated in Memphis while seeking economic justice for striking sanitation workers – and they sometimes forget that Cesar Chavez was first and foremost a labor leader advocating for farm workers.  But no one questions why Labor attends Harvey Milk events.”  Gonzales went on to discuss the recent well publicized attacks on public sector labor unions in the Midwest.  She reminded the SDDC that the stripping of collective bargaining rights and cuts to pay and benefits for state workers in several “rustbelt” states did little to address budget shortfalls – Wisconsin used the “savings” to pay for corporate tax cuts.  “Let’s be clear, this was a purely partisan act with Republican lawmakers trying to break unions that, with the LGBT community, represent the most consistent supporters of progressive Democrats.”

Banks discussed the situation at the state and county level.  At the state level, the result of Republican legislator’s refusal to even allow citizens to vote on whether to extend the current tax rates is forcing a budget that relies only on cuts, primarily in social services.  Most of these cuts (in senior services, AIDS and other disease work, mental health care, education, etc.) not only hurt the people who depend on this vital help, but also mean additional cuts, or elimination, in the salaries and benefits of the workers providing the services.  Banks noted that the contract proposal his union delivered to San Diego County’s negotiators for the first time would require the County to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity.  In spite of the fact that the County is operating at a surplus (approximately $2 million), their response to the economic aspects of the proposal was to require “a freeze to all salary steps, removal of the 7% offset employees receive towards their pension, and elimination of many premiums.”

Zucchet, in response to Councilmember DeMaio’s stated desire “…to make San Diego the Wisconsin of the West”, reminded the crowd that since local Republicans have been scapegoating City workers for a lot longer, it’s actually Wisconsin that is the San Diego of the Midwest.  He told the crowd that City workers were removed from Social Security protection when then-Mayor Pete Wilson proposed that the City could benefit by taking the money being paid as the City’s contribution to workers Social Security accounts and dedicating some of that savings to a supplemental pension plan for the workers.  This is the pension that DeMaio now wants to eliminate, leaving City workers with no Social Security, no pension and only an inadequate 401k plan to survive on.  We have all seen the losses in 401k values during the recent recession.  In addition to the removal of workers’ retirement safety net, current proposals call for the elimination of staff – including revenue producing positions – through both “managed competition” and service cutbacks (many in libraries and parks/recreation) and multi-year wage freezes.  The last City wage increase occurred in 2005.

Carla Kirkwood, Program Chair for SDDC, reminded the Club, “Labor has been with the LGBT community, negotiating for LGBT protections in labor contracts, protesting anti-LGBT businesses like the Manchester Grand Hyatt and supporting openly gay and LGBT supporting candidates for office.  Now they are in the cross-hairs of the extreme right and need our help.  We need to urge community members to contact their City Council members, County Supervisors and State legislators to remind them of their obligation to negotiate fairly and directly with their respective labor groups – a partisan attack on Labor is an attack on the LGBT community.”

Originally published by the San Diego Democratic Club.

Special Note: As a result of the forum, the Club has since passed a resolution in support of collective bargaining and stated in their release,

“The collective bargaining resolution presented to the membership was similar to resolutions adopted by various groups and agencies around Southern California including the Southwestern Community College District, the Cities of Chula Vista and National City, and the San Diego Unified School District. The membership however, decided that the resolution did not go far enough. According to SDDC member Mark Conlan, ‘We can’t do much to oppose Scott Walker and the Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature; they’re Wisconsin’s problem. But we can hold our own elected officials accountable on this important issue, and we should.’ Conlan went on to amend the resolution to include a call upon the San Diego City Council to pass a resolution reaffirming the right of public employees to organize unions and bargain collectively. The amendment also requires the Club to strongly consider this issue during the process of making endorsements for City Council and other offices.”