It was a little reported story, but San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom reaped a huge political victory last week with his brokering of a new contract for Bay Area security officers. The security guards are represented by SEIU 24/7, an offshoot of the highly successful statewide janitors union, SEIU 1877. SEIU 1877 President Mike Garcia oversees the security guard union, and strongly praised the new contract. It seemed unimaginable when Newsom was elected mayor in 2003 that he would play important roles in boosting workers in two of the state’s two most progressive unions, UNITEHERE Local 2 and SEIU’s property services division. In light of SEIU 1877’s close connection to California’s most effective Latino voter outreach organization, Newsom’s intervention on the workers behalf should pay him great statewide political dividends.
Security guards have long been the lowest-paid and least unionized building service workers. But a recent contract signed by SEIU 24/7 will raise guard salaries 27% over the next five years, and eventually cover 80% of their health insurance premiums.
Considering that most of the guards in the Bay Area are African-American, and often have families, this sharp rise in wages and benefits will make a meaningful difference in their ability to remain living in the region.
While worker solidarity was key to the successful contract, credit also goes to Mayor Newsom. Newsom pushed downtown building owners to get involved in the negotiations, even though building services contractors employ the guards.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa showed earlier this year how political leaders can boost the cause of security guards. Villaraigosa’s pushing of building owners to support unionization in downtown Los Angeles helped secure union recognition for 5000 guards; now Newsom has intervened to get San Francisco security guards a better contract.
The political significance of Newsom’s assistance to the security guards cause cannot be overstated. SEIU’s building services division is its most politically active sector, as unionized janitors have played a central role in the electoral outreach efforts that have built California’s labor-Latino power.
SEIU’s Mike Garcia is among the nation’s most politically savvy labor leaders. He has long followed the example of his political mentor, the late Miguel Contreras, who demanded action from his politician allies and rewarded and punished them accordingly.
By intervening to help the guards achieve a strong contract, Newsom has clearly scored points with Garcia. And when Newsom announces his statewide campaign for either Governor in 2010 or Senator in 2012, Garcia will not forget the mayor’s help.
In recent years, SEIU has helped create a statewide electoral organization called Strengthening our Lives (SOL). SOL is a statewide non-profit 501 [c] 4 organization dedicated to the empowering and education of immigrant working communities, and has become the state’s most effective vehicle for Latino voter outreach.
While SOL has focused on Los Angeles County and San Jose, in 2006 it ran a hugely successful campaign in Fresno and is ramping up its efforts in the Central Valley. By 2010 the group is likely to be an even more powerful electoral force, and will be able to influence the outcome of Democratic primaries.
I wrote on November 5 that Newsom would use his second term to boost his support among labor. This trend is already becoming clear.
In the past month, Newsom has backed a local identification card for San Francisco, a measure pushed by labor and immigrant rights groups. Now he has helped SEIU’s 24/7 ensure a good contract for its Bay Area security guards.
As unlikely as it seemed in 2003, Newsom is on the way to becoming labor’s preferred candidate in a statewide primary. And labor’s backing increasingly determines the winner of such contests.
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