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Labor Issues Report Card To City Council Members

April 26, 2012 1:20 p.m.

Guest: Lorena Gonzalez, secretary-treasurer and CEO of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

Related Story: SD City Council Gets Labor Report Card


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

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CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Labor groups have just issued a report card on the voting records of San Diego City Council members. It lists 27 issues that labor says are important to San Diego's working families. How did the San Diego City Council do? Well, the highest grade is B, most of the council members got Fs. Joining me to talk about the labor council's working families report card is my guest, Lorena Gonzalez, secretary treasurer and CEO of the San Diego and imperial counties labor council. Welcome back to the show.

GONZALEZ: Thank you, Maureen. Good to see you.

CAVANAUGH: It's good to see you too. Of what is your overall assessment of how working families are doing these days in San Diego?

GONZALEZ: You know, we know it's bad. People are still struggling to find a job, and this those who have a job are underemployed. And that's been a lot of the focus of what we've been advocating for. And it's important this is a working families report card. A lot of people tend to think of the labor council advocating for union members, but if you look at the votes, there are many that have nothing to do with the traditional union ideas but have to do with things that are important to working families, transit, the right to hire local workers. We have whether or not taxi drivers can get fair representation. They're not even union members. This really has to do with the balance of power, really, at the City Council and how much emphasis has been given to corporate lobbyists, to downtown interests, to hoteliers, and how much to working families.

CAVANAUGH: What do you think working families want to see from their elected leaders in San Diego?

GONZALEZ: I think they want to see a balance of this idea that yes, we have downtown, but we have neighborhoods too. And we know that when we go into our neighborhoods where folks live, they have different needs and different priorities. They want to get to work, and they want to make sure that when they're working that they can make ends meet. That's one of the biggest problems. The lack of the focus on the types of jobs that are being created in San Diego. We're not looking out for what tourist workers are making and how they can make ends meet.

CAVANAUGH: You mentioned a couple of the issues included in this report card. Give us a few more that might be of real concern to working families in San Diego.

GONZALEZ: Of course a lot of people had to do with the series of votes that have been recently taken concerning the Convention Center. I think we see one of the biggest tax hikes in recent San Diego history, a billion dollars tax giveaway to hotel owners, many of them out of state, letting them take tax money and use it at their own discretion, and at the same time having no protection for workers. No local hire, no guarantees that there's going to be headache or living wages -- healthcare or living wages. Those of us that live in San Diego and are trying to advocate for all workers look at that and think it's okay, we have to have economic growth, we want to be part of that, but at whose expense and whose profit? And I think the City Council is focused primarily on the profits of hotel owners, downtown interests, and not the neighborhood constituents they represent.

CAVANAUGH: How did the City Council members do this on report card?

GONZALEZ: I've got to be really honest. I have friends on the council who have been my friends for years. We have gone to things in the past and have done a very good job on behalf of working families. This year, it was shocking to see some of those folks who in the past we've already endorsed, promoted, we've communicated with their constituent, how good they are for middle class workers, and they respected -- sherry Leitner, Tony Young, we were very disappointed. Of course Faulconer, and DeMaio received Fs, but the D-minus for Todd Gloria hit us at the heart. This was somebody who came before labor, working family advocates and said I'm going to be your champion. I'm not just going to be a vote, I'm going to champion the issues. My mother was a hotel worker. That's what he told us, but his record in the last year has been dismal.

CAVANAUGH: What's the point of issuing a report like this?

GONZALEZ: We have these reports in the state level, and the national level, and we've thought about doing a local report card in the past, and we focused so much on during an election when people are running for office, and the promises they make to our workers and to nonunion workers and workers in general and say this is what I'm going to do for you, how I'm going to create good, sustainable jobs. And we focus on that during an election and spent a lot of money getting out that message. These people are going to be good for middle class workers, low-wage workers. We never go back and communicate with those same people about how well they did. It's easy to make promises 67 it's easy to write a letter, attend a rally, but it's hard when you're facing these very wealthy downtown interests. We just saw today a report that Carl Demyy on has received $23,000 from hotel interests. And he is the choice of the hotel developers for mayor. And somebody who says I'm not going to vote to increase taxes increased taxes for the hotel industry. If we don't communicate the entire story to people, they just assume I think a lot of times that their council person is doing really well. The council people are good about putting out there when they're doing good things, they're not so good at communicating when they're not doing a good job representing them. Of

CAVANAUGH: Lorena Gonzalez with the San Diego and imperial county's labor council. We're talking about the labor council's working families report card. You told us some of the issues that you're rating the council members on. Many of them kind of read like a labor agenda. What do votes on the privatization of the Mira Mar landfill have to do with working families?

GONZALEZ: Absolutely. One of the things we brought to them is the landfill and the associated jobs with that that are currently good middle class jobs have the potential of being outsourced now to jobs that if you compare public sector jobs related to the landfill and private sector, you're talking about the difference between a lower middle class life and a complete minimum wage-driven life. That affects workers. And so we wanted to insure that that was communicated. Also this is a list of things we asked the council for. We didn't put anything on this list that we didn't have workers go in front of the council and advocate on behalf of. Sometimes there were union workers, sometimes nonunion workers, sometimes community members. But because we have to fill out lobbying reports, we know exactly what we had been in front of the council in front of. And that's what this included.

CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you about the questions on this report regarding the pension reform initiative. Proposition B, that's going to be on the ballot in June. It seems to me that there are actually a lot of working families who want to see this change, who want to see city workers' pensions change, and don't really support unions at all. So I'm wondering where that fits into the scheme of things as you see a report card for working families.

GONZALEZ: Well, of course we disagree. I think the vast majority -- it depends how you describe working families, I suppose. But if you actually explained the pension initiative to folks and say the City Council is not doing anything to stop -- and this isn't necessarily true, some of their best votes were on the pension initiative, surprisingly, but the concern this pension initiative will keep workers out of Social Security. It could actually start costing the city more as well. The 401K aspect costs the city more than the current pension. Well, you know, I think people are concerned about that. We've never said there should be no pension reform. We just said this is a bad way to do it. Some of the council members agreed with that. The other thing important about this report card, we wanted to community with folks that we're more than just the pension. I think a lot of time when is we see reports in the media, when we see report, the media always say, well, labor doesn't like DeMaio because he's going to take away their pension. Well, are the pension affected unions are clearly about 10% if not less than my unions. Of so most of our unions, and most of this report card reflects private sector workers, union and union, that care about their wages and benefits, that care about hiring locally, that healthcare is affordable. We don't like DeMaio because he took on those issues as well. There are plenty of elected officials out there that have different views on the pension, and frankly some of them we've supported, some we haven't. But this idea that labor and labor council is all about public employee pensions is just flat out wrong. And that's one of the things we wanted to communicate as well.

CAVANAUGH: Again I have to ask you a pension reform initiative question.


CAVANAUGH: If indeed this passes in June, taking away guaranteed pensions from city workers, do you think this would be the first step toward the end of guaranteed pensions for public sector workers?

GONZALEZ: Absolutely. And I think it's even scarier than that, to be honest. And one of the reasons we've been so concerned, and we think that normal everyday working families are concerned about this, it's not just pensions. The city workers don't have Social Security. And this initiative allows them to keep the workers out of Social Security. That should be scary for every worker. Once you start allowing them to work without any kind of safety net, you upon that's going to spread to the private sector. If we have to rely on the whims of Wall Street, that hurts everybody who come from the middle class and working class, and we're confident -- in fact we've done enough polling to know that people care about that, and they want to make sure that there's some basic retirement security. We want to end those 6-figure pensions. There's more to the entire picture than that.

CAVANAUGH: Let me change gears on you for just a second. Yesterday, a number of business leaders publicly switched their party affiliation to independents. They wanted to make a statement against partisan gridlock. Many accuse unions of being part of that partisan gridlock. I'm wondering, do you think this trend toward independent voting will take hold in San Diego?

GONZALEZ: It's interesting you say that. One of the reasons we did the report card is to distinguish ourselves. So many people have decided that labor is about the Democratic Party. And we have taken votes at our labor council, at the state fed, at the AFLCIO to say we're not going to support somebody just because they're a Democrat. There are a lot of people who have called me, come up to me, from the party that said how can you not support sherry Leitner? She's the democrat! And she's going to vote for a democratic City Council president am most of the families out there, we don't care if people are a Democrat or Republican. We care if they have the values that are going to push forward an economic agenda for all San Diego eighteens. Wee not seeing -- and we're not seeing it on the right or the left. And I think this move to independence is something that we have been tackling within organized labor for the last few years, and it's interesting to see it in a more partisan aspect as well.

CAVANAUGH: Do you think report cards like this though encourage city leaders to work together or is it another polarizing device?

GONZALEZ: We've never done this report card. And it's tough to say. But we think it's important for folks to know that they're going to be held accountable. And that it's not just a sound byte on KUSI that's going to get them elected. The same way, the first time they said came in and said I'm going to advocate for low-income families, when they don't to that, we're going to communicate it as well. That's what we wanted to get with this. I hope it doesn't increase gridlock. That's not our hope at all. We hope our City Council starts to take things seriously. We did a poll recently, over 70% of San Diegans think that restaurant workers should get sick days, three a year. Nobody wants a restaurant worker to be serving them if they're sick. Well, I'll tell you, let me try to get that passed at the City Council. I'd love to do that. But I know exactly what I'll face. Maybe I'll try!

GONZALEZ: But I know where the votes would lineup. And those are the kind of issues we need to be talking about and insure that our City Council is working toward.