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Steve Francis Wins Over Some Labor Groups

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

San Diego city mayoral candidate, businessman Steve Francis, landed the endorsement of the hotel and restaurant workers' union. Francis, who was the candidate most strongly in favor of outsourcing city jobs in the last election, appears to have changed his stripes. KPBS reporter Alison St John has more.

The Labor Council of San Diego and Imperial Counties has traditionally been a key player in local elections. But this year the Labor Council is taking the unprecedented step of deciding on an open endorsement in the mayor's race, which leaves the individual unions in the region to make up their own minds.

Labor Council CEO Lorena Gonzales says the hotel and restaurant workers are the first to   decide -- they've endorsed Francis.

Gonzales: Francis sat down with the hotel workers and shared his beliefs about a need for a living wage, a need to raise the standard of living for workers in the tourism industry and I think they took him at his word.

But Francis’ word on Living Wages does appear to contradict a report put out by his own Institute, the San Diego Institute for Policy Research, which Francis funds to come up with policy positions. 

At a recent debate, Mayor Sanders accused Francis of flip flopping on the city's Living Wage commitment.

Sanders: His institute in August of last year said that living wage was going to cost the city millions of dollars that we couldn't afford to pay for that. Yet tonight he's changed his position. I'm not sure what position he really has.

Francis: What he's referring to is the President of the Institute put out an Op Ed, and that was his position, that was how he felt, this was an institute position, it's his position .

But some are more inclined to believe the Institute's opinion is an accurate reflection of Francis' true beliefs.

Glen Sparrow is Professor emeritus of Public Affairs at San Diego State University. He is amazed at the about-face Francis has done since the he ran for mayor against Sanders in 2005. At that time Francis put a lot of his own money into a proposition to support outsourcing city jobs. That was the proposition that forced the mayor to move on opening city jobs to private competition.

Sparrow: Then he chided Sanders for not moving rapidly enough on it, and then Sanders did move last week and the unions were very upset with that.

None of the union locals will even consider endorsing incumbent mayor Jerry Sanders because he's taken steps to outsource city jobs. He won’t give non public safety workers a raise this year and he wants to change health and pension benefits. Yet these are all things both he and Francis pledged to do three years ago to save taxpayer money and get the city back on track financially.

Joan Raymond of the city's blue collar workers union says Francis has told her members he would ask private contractors to pay them the same wages and benefits as the city does if jobs are outsourced. At this point there's is no guarantees this would happen.

Raymond: A couple of years ago we wouldn't have given Steve Francis the time of day because he came out swinging for privatization , but that was before we had such a downward spiral with Mayor Sanders -- it's kind of a lesser to two evils argument.

It's hard to see how private contractors could save the city 10 percent if they had to pay the same wages and benefits. But Raymond says her members hope to get Steve Francis promises in writing before they vote on whether to endorse him next week.

Professor Sparrow is not convinced. He's surprised labor would find Francis’ new beliefs credible.

Sparrow: I find it very odd that memories are so short. I just don't think a person can change that much in four years.

Another surprise is in store today. In his previous political incarnation as a Nevada Assemblyman, Steve Francis was not known as an environmentalist. But the chair of the San Diego Chapter of the Sierra Club will hold a press conference this afternoon to announce that Francis has his endorsement.

Alison St John, KPBS News.

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