Mazzola v. Daly: Who Has Fought for SF’s Working-Class?

by Randy Shaw on April 30, 2009

Still angry over the Board of Supervisors denying him a seat on the Golden Gate Bridge District Board, Local 38 Plumbers union leader Larry Mazzola, Jr. has attacked Supervisor Chris Daly as an enemy of workers’ interests. Assisted by opponents of the San Francisco Democratic Party’s progressive majority, Mazzola distributed a flyer at last weekend’s state Democratic Convention castigating Daly as someone who “turns his back on organized labor.” On April 21, Mazzola and members of the Building Trades picketed a Democratic Party fundraiser, holding signs accusing Daly and local Party leader Aaron Peskin of being “union busters.” But Mazzola and the Plumbers Union do not come close to matching Daly’s record of fighting for workers interests. While Daly has sponsored measures for paid sick leave, parental leave, and been the go-to Supervisor for SEIU and UNITEHERE, Mazzola and his union have almost always backed the downtown / Chamber of Commerce / Committee on Jobs candidate in local elections. Mazzola’s group has also funded landlord and corporate drafted ballot measures — like the HOPE unlimited condo-conversion measure in 2002, the “workforce housing initiative” in 2004, and the Yes on K/No on L initiatives to expand dot-coms in the Mission — that were designed to displace working people, including union members, from the city.

Larry Mazzola’s war on Chris Daly and the San Francisco Democratic Party’s progressive majority uses left-wing, pro-worker rhetoric to promote a pro-corporate, pro-development, anti-tenant agenda. While Mazzola and his union have backed many Democrats, their local agenda is aligned with the downtown interests unhappy that voters have given Daly, Peskin, and fellow progressives a voting majority in the local Party.

The mutual goal of Mazzola and his downtown allies is clear: to undermine the credibility of the local Party and destroy its endorsement clout in future elections, including the Democratic primary for Governor in 2010.

The Mazzola/Local 38 Record: Promoting Gentrification and Displacement

For those unfamiliar with the political history of the Mazzola family and Local 38, here is a brief sample:

The union aggressively backed the unrestricted downtown highrise development in the 1970’s and 1980’s that drove up rents and displaced working-class people from San Francisco. It opposed every ballot initiative designed to slow growth, and limit the massive gentrification that occurred in several San Francisco neighborhoods during this period.

The union opposed tenant-backed ballot measures for vacancy control, and contributed money to the infamous Prop R campaign in 2002, which would have allowed unlimited condo conversions. Since converted units are exempt from rent control, Mazzola and his union essentially supported eliminating rent control for potentially 100,000 housing units.

After backing pro-downtown, pro-landlord John Molinari against Art Agnos in the general election in the pivotal 1987 mayor’s race, the union strongly backed anti-tenant, downtown-controlled Frank Jordan against Agnos in 1991. Jordan ran his field campaign out of the Plumbers Market Street office.

Opposing Pro-Union Supes

In the past two decades, Mazzola and his union have backed the pro-downtown, Chamber of Commerce-backed candidate in nearly every contested San Francisco Supervisor’s race. They consistently opposed candidates with strong records of supporting unionized city and nonprofit workers, and endorsed candidates strongly opposed by such union members.

In the historic return to district elections in 2000, the Plumbers opposed the Ammiano progressive slate and instead supported pro-downtown candidates.

In 2002, the Plumbers opposed the re-election of Chris Daly, despite his strong advocacy for organized labor. While Mazzola backed two of Daly’s opponents, SEIU felt so indebted to Daly that they placed staff on virtually every block in the district doing get out the vote for him on Election Day.

In 2004, despite the pro-labor voting records of Supervisors Sandoval and McGoldrick, the Plumbers joined with the Committee on Jobs in seeking to unseat both.

In 2006, the Plumbers prioritized Daly’s defeat, and again aligned with the Committee on Jobs and groups hostile to unionized city workers in backing a candidate, Rob Black. Black’s campaign headquarters was located inside the Plumbers Market Street headquarters.

At the time of the 2006 election, only Tom Ammiano rivaled Daly as the Board’s leading labor advocate. That’s why members and staff of UNITEHERE Local 2, SEIU Local 1021, SEIU-UHW, and other union activists worked day and night to prevent corporate and anti-union interests from seizing Daly’s seat.

This was the third time that Mazzola opposed Daly, and the 2006 election preceded the recent controversy over the Bridge District appointment. Why then did Mazzola and the Plumbers Union make an all out effort to defeat the pro-labor candidate in District 6 in 2000?

Mazzola was furious that Daly stood up for the low-income tenants at the Plumbers-owned Civic Center Hotel against the Plumbers Trust Funds’ effort to evict them all and demolish the building. The Plumbers Trust Fund had grand plans for building luxury condos on the SRO’s site and adjacent parking lot, and Mazzola did not appreciate Daly putting the interests of disabled and working-class tenants, and the city’s low-cost housing supply, ahead of Plumber profits.

In 2008, Mazzola and Local 38 again aligned with downtown’s agenda and failed to support a single progressive candidate in the 2008 Supervisors races. While they claim to have helped elect Eric Mar, their contribution to him was made after he won, and after they gave the maximum contribution to his chief opponent, Sue Lee, during the campaign.

Daly: A Warrior for Labor

The best measure of Daly’s commitment to organized labor is the huge number of union members who have worked for his re-election campaigns on their own time. These union members know Daly’s outstanding record of fighting for organized labor.

From sponsoring resolutions on behalf of Ben Davis workers, to using procedural tactics to help locked out SEIU workers at Sutter Hospital, to backing private security officers at SEIU 24-7, to fighting to keep the jobs of unionized public health workers, to his 100% support for every piece of legislation designed to keep working-class tenants in San Francisco, Chris Daly has been a consistent warrior for economic justice for working people.

Daly often stands up for labor when doing so hurts him politically.

Consider the Board of Supervisors 9-2 approval of a resolution on March 19, 2001 commending Elaine Chao for her nomination to the post of Secretary of Labor. This is not a misprint. Even Tom Ammiano backed Leland Yee’s commemoration of the woman who became the most anti-worker Labor Secretary in history.

Chao’s regime punished employees who tried to enforce OSHA and other labor laws, and ignored the wage theft of billions of dollars from low-wage workers, many of whom immigrants. During Chao’s nearly eight years, the Labor Department largely abandoned enforcement of federal wage and hour laws.

Only Chris Daly and Matt Gonzalez had the political courage to oppose Yee’s feel-good resolution for Chao. The San Francisco Chronicle then rewarded Daly for his pro-union stance by editorializing that his opposition to the measure honoring Asian-American Chao demonstrated “small minded bigotry.”

How much easier it would have been for Daly to ignore Chao’s anti-union animus and vocal opposition to affirmative action and simply vote for the resolution. Just as it would have been politically easier for him to remain quiet while Mazzola linked his perceived dynastic and ancestral right to a seat on the Golden Gate Bridge District to one’s commitment to the labor movement.

A Good Union Man?

Labor folks will tell you that Mazzola is a good union man, and that Local 38 members support strikes and never cross a picket line. But Mazzola’s consistent support for candidates hostile to unionized city and nonprofit workers, and opposition to programs and policies designed to keep working-class people in the city, cannot be excluded from the equation.

Nor can we ignore how Mazzola’s attempt to also tar Aaron Peskin as a “union-buster” seeks to undermine the pro-worker progressive majority in the San Francisco Democratic Party. Peskin did not even vote on Mazzola’s appointment, and picket signs bizarrely blamed him for a ballot initiative overwhelmingly passed by voters shows that there are deeper motives at play.

It increasingly appears that “Good Union Man” Mazzola is the front man for a corporate-supported campaign to undermine the local and statewide credibility of the San Francisco Democratic Party prior to the 2010 elections. A fellow named Gavin Newsom is a close Mazzola ally, and Newsom backers may be concerned that a Peskin-led San Francisco Democratic Party could hurt the mayor’s gubernatorial chances by either endorsing one of his opponents or taking no position in the race.

How better to hurt the Party’s statewide clout than to attack it as anti-labor, even if this means undermining the political leaders who have been the leading allies of San Francisco union members.

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the author of the new book, Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century (University of California Press)

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