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How Does Divide Between Labor And Business Impact Local Politics?


The ongoing battle between labor and business groups in San Diego played a big role in Tuesday's election. From Propositions A, D and J to the city council and county supervisors races, labor and business interests were pitted against each other. We discuss how the debate between labor and business is affecting local politics, and how it could impact the future of our region.

The ongoing battle between labor and business groups in San Diego played a big role in Tuesday's election. From Propositions A, D and J to the city council and county supervisors races, labor and business interests were pitted against each other. We discuss how the debate between labor and business is affecting local politics, and how it could impact the future of our region.


Bob Kittle, director of News Planning and Content for KUSI.

Andrew Donohue, editor of

JW August, managing editor for 10 News.

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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.

GLORIA PENNER: I'm Gloria Penner, I'm joined by the editors of the round table these days in San Diego. We've just experienced an election day deeply marked by the scarcity of jobs and the sickly economy, our region and the nation are experiencing. Today we'll talk about the gulf between labor and business, which impacted most races, and two other issues, where labor and business are major players. San Diego's future without Proposition D sales tax money and the threat or opportunity of locating super centers in San Diego. The editors with me today are bob kittle, KUSI director of news planning and content. Bob, it's good to see you again.

BOB KITTLE: Good morning Gloria.

GLORIA PENNER: Andrew Donahue, editor of Voice of San I always enjoy seeing your shining face on Friday mornings.

ANDREW DONAHUE: It's a pleasure to see you, Gloria.

GLORIA PENNER: And J. W. August, managing editor for 10 News. And J. W., you survived the elections.

J. W. AUGUST: Top of the morning to you.

GLORIA PENNER: 1-888-895-5727, if you'd like to join what is bound to be a scintillating conversation this morning. Well, tough times reinforced deep divisions in economic forces. Organized labor fights for better wages, and benefits for workers, business interests look to business growth, healthy profits and thus job creation. On the surface, there could be an appearance of common ground, but election campaigns tend to emphasize those divisions. So Bob, let's begin with a clear loss for labor when county Proposition A won handily on Tuesday. It permanently banned county labor agreements for county funded projects. Why was this a labor versus issue?

ANDREW DONAHUE: Well, because the labor unions prefer to have what's called a labor agreement on big public infrastructure projects. And project labor agreement essentially means that the government agrees that only union laborers will carry out the project. So that's a big the groups have a big stake in that. The problem is that drives up the cost of a new library or school, so it's not in the taxpayers' interest. So they overwhelmingly supported a ban to county learn projects.

GLORIA PENNER: Just to reiterate or refresh, what was the argument against having nonunion workers earn at the level of union wages?

ANDREW DONAHUE: The way the campaign was waged, it was that this does not allow for fair and open competition. But second early, and I think personal to taxpayers are project labor agreements, that is union workers only, drives up the cost of a project, and the taxpayers get less for their money.

GLORIA PENNER: Benefit I go to Andrew on this, I'm gonna ask our listeners, you heard what our theme is. It's the oppositions of labor and business during election time and other times too. How important do you think that they were to the results of this election? Or do you think that you saw perhaps a coming together of Business and labor on some issues? I'd like to get your opinion. And where do you think the future lies? Our number is 1-888-895-5727. Opponents to proposition A, Andrew, argued that labor agreements are a way to insure quality work, fair wages and healthcare benefits for injured construction workers, how can those be guaranteed without those agreements?

ANDREW DONAHUE: They can't. I think that's the fundamental argument, and sort of the fundamental issue. This was somewhat of an it irrelevant issue in the grand scheme of things though. This is a county board of supervisors that has -- all five are Republicans. They have never done a PLA. I don't think they would ever even think about doing a PLA.

GLORIA PENNER: PLA, a project labor agreement.

ANDREW DONAHUE: And they are going to be together as a board, and at the very least as Republican majority for quite a while. 1

J. W. AUGUST: So if this hadn't been passed, then food stamps would go away? That's the argument? I don't think it's relevant to what you're asking what they did with the passage of prop A. Prop A was Horn's revenge against the union for term limits, and as Andrew said, it really doesn't affect the county. But I do think that other counties and municipalities across the country are gonna see how the vote went. And it's also interesting the Lorena Gonzales from the Union --

GLORIA PENNER: She's the president of the labor council.

J. W. AUGUST: Was quoted in the paper, saying, oh, we weren't involved in this. We didn't have requesting to do with this. So I think they've gotten beat up in recent elections and what they decide to support, and it's the wrong time for a union to get behind something like to.

GLORIA PENNER: Do you agree with, J. W, bob.

BOB KITTLE: Well, I think the mood of the electorate was certainly not supportive of the union's agenda. If you look at the two new city council members, both of them were not the favorites of the labor unions, although one of the candidates did have the support of the fire fighters' union. Proposition D was the creation of one of the labor unions of city hall, and it was soundly rejected. So I think when it was put to the voters, the voters want reform and efficiency in government, they don't want a raw deal through a project labor agreement that drives up the cost of projects, and I think cross the board, the voters went the opposite way from the unions agenda.

ANDREW DONAHUE: What I would look for though is if this actually comes to the City of San Diego in 2012. 'Cause there's people talking about that. That's when you'll have the real war. The labor didn't even fight this battle, and they had a lot of other things to put their money towards, but if this hits the City of San Diego, we could have world war three here.

GLORIA PENNER: Let's hope not. I want to talk about the City of San Diego, but first I want to take one of our callers. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. The question is, what impact do you believe the division between labor interests and business interests had on the recent recent election on Tuesday's election, locally? Let's hear now from Daniel in Claremont.

NEW SPEAKER: Well, I think what we're gonna see, it's gonna keep on fighting like it has, old business downtown boys' chub fair language time. It's gonna continue that way. They're not gonna help with the homeless. This is just another thing that happened too, they don't want unions, and they don't want what we have as a country is we the people. They want me, I, and profits. And they're gonna continue to do that, and they're gonna with that with the three billion to 6 billion dollars they get, with that back room deal that went on the CCDC, and they're gonna keep on doing this. ONce it comes to the city, it's the same way. We need to help the people. If we don't have the jobs we can't get the money in the stream, and we can't help the people. Can we help the businesses? Oh, sure. They're gonna be in there lobbying and take what they can take. They've done it for years and years and years. But the old hat, people get hired again by their business friends like some people that wear bow ties, that's gonna keep on going, but the regular Joes, they're not gonna get their jobs.

BOB KITTLE: Wait, i have a new jobs program. Everybody should wear a bow tie.

ANDREW DONAHUE: For the record, Bob is wearing a bow tie.

GLORIA PENNER: I'm just wondering what kind of special vision Daniel has so he can see through his -- take off that bow tie, Bob. Daniel, thank you for your comment. A business supported candidate for San Diego City Council, 'cause we were just talking about, when it comes to the city will in 2012, third world war will break out. Lorie Zapf, she won over labor supported Howard Wayne. And Lorie Zapf was certainly supported by business. So what difference will this make to the city council and the residents of San Diego? Donna Frye definitely supported by labor, has been replaced by a business supported future member of the city council.

J. W. AUGUST: It's certainly gonna make it even more interesting on the city council. We now -- what, it'll be 5-3? Yeah. And elections are coming again, and I think we're gonna see some interesting coalitions out there. Where some labor -- it's gonna depend on the, one thing I noticed is, everybody doesn't do the party line as much as they used to. They seem to form coalitions depending on what the subject is. For instance, on Prop D here you had Donna Frye, and the mayor who joined forces on what they thought was an important issue. I think you'll see Marty Emerald, I read on the UT or online on the Voice about her, very much opposed to cuts on the police of fire. So I think you're gonna see that dynamic, but it's gonna be obviously more Republican city.

GLORIA PENNER: Well, are the head of the local Republican party said during the campaign that Lorie Zapf is the first stepping stone to push back against the labor dominated city council. So I'm wondering has labor become a synonym for Democrat and accident a begin anymore for Republican.

ANDREW DONAHUE: No, not at all. If you look at it, there were two council races that were won, Lorie Zapf was one, and that was sort of labor against the GOP, but the senate race was two Democrats, which is sort of the umbrella organization of most of the labor unions in the county, had very strongly supported Felipe Hueso to the point that they were pouring money into that race was the between two Democrats, and the Democrats were quite happy that David Alvarez won. Because this sets the stage for who will be council president, which is a very important role. And before labor council had enough friends on the city council that they were able to put Ben Hueso in the city council, they're probably not gonna be able to do that now with Zapf and Alvarez headed to the council, so you can very much see Tony Young be the next council president, and he is gonna be much more moderate, and I would say, down the middle of the road than Ben HUeso was.

GLORIA PENNER: Let's hear from another one of our callers. Our number is 1-888-895-5727 we're talking about the inference of business and labor on local elections this time around, and Bobby from La Jolla is with us, Bobby, you're on with the editors.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you, I'd like to point out that labor unions had a hugely positive impact on all, both blue collars and white collars in the U.S., most people don't know that or forget about it, the days before labor unions were pretty drastic before labor unions. Think about the Christmas story. And I think that yes, some labors have really gone over board, tipping the balance too much. But remember, labor unions helped create the middle class in America, which is shrinking greatly. And it's creating more wealthy people as well as more poor people, which harms us, which harms the United States of America in terms of economy, in terms of growth factors, in terms of many, many issues, and that's my comment. And I'd like love to hear your editors speak to that.

GLORIA PENNER: Yeah, I would too, and I'm gonna it ask them just as soon as we come back from a very short break. And we'll respond to Bobby, and we'll take more of your calls as we talk about the influence of labor and business, on the current elections, reactions that we just had on Tuesday. This is the the Editors' Roundtable, I'm Gloria penner. This is the Editors' Roundtable, I'm Gloria Penner. I'm at the Roundtable today with Andrew Donahue, editor of voice of San, and we also have J. W August from ten news and from KUSI, bob Kittle. So with that group of people, and you, we are discussing the elections, and at the moment, we're sort of getting close to crapping up this discussion of the influence of labor and business on the elections, exit, I think this theme will contrary throughout the entire hour, because it does touch almost everything that we're gonna be talking about. You heard Bobby, Bobby said labor has levelled the playing field to a certain extent. Respond to that, please, bob.

BOB KITTLE: I think the days of Dickensian sweat shops disappeared a long time ago. And labor certainly through the economic history of the United States was a counterbalance to the excess of free market capitalism, Darwinian capitalism of a hundred years ago, perhaps of. But today, the influence of the public unions in city haul at least, in my view, is rather negative for the taxpayers. While they department create the pension mess, they're certainly an obstacle to stopping it.

ANDREW DONAHUE: I think there's also a key difference to be made between the public sector labor unions and the private sector labor unions. The caller's exactly right. We have a very serious problem with the shrinking middle class in this kitchen. And like bob had said, the labor unions are a very natural counteraction when you're talking about the private sector sort of current balancing profits and corporations and everything. But in the public sector, it's very much the labor unions at this point against public services, especially in the City of San Diego. Soap it's a little bit of a difference balance there.

J. W. AUGUST: I don't know of any government union workers working in coal mines for long hours without health benefits.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay, well, let me give you a broader question, looking a little bit to the future. There's been increased city hall discuss about some major public building projects downtown, and expanded convention center, a Chargers stadium, perhaps a city hall down the road. How does the labor business divide help to shape what might help with those projects, bob?

BOB KITTLE: Well, to the extent that labor unions had the a little to require or to win. It would drive up the cost of those frequents significantly and perhaps make them impossible to achieve. But I think it's also worth noting, Gloria, while we did have coalition that included business and labor behind prop d the sales tax increase, that is, the Chamber of Commerce, and the economic development corporation, two business groups, joined with the unions in seeking that tax increase, I don't think that coalition lasted beyond Tuesday. I think now because of the cometing interests of business and labor, those groups go back to beening natural adveraries.

GLORIA PENNER: And is it natural? Does it have to be natural?

BOB KITTLE: Well, it doesn't always have to know adversarial. I think if you are running a business, and you've got to keep your eye on the bottom line and contain your cost, that's a very different objective from a labor union that says our goal is to increase pay and benefits for our members.

GLORIA PENNER: Proposition D, what's next is our next segment, which is coming up, but I'd like to take one more call before we move on from that. Let's hear from Alexander from old town.

NEW SPEAKER: Well, I actually -- when I called, I more or less wanted to say what the previous caller Bobby said, but I'm glad that I got this opportunity to kind of rebut bob a little bit. I think -- if you think that the Dickensian sweat shops as you put them just evaporated a helped years out of nowhere, and that they won't come back if we get rid of labor, I think you're more of an idealist than I am which is saying something. The fact is that matter is that people in America have such an incredibly short memory, if we don't have a strong labor union to counter balance the incredible amount of resources that business has behind their goals, you can talk about bloated labor unions you can talk about increased costs, but the reality is if you don't have a big strong labor movement to counter balance those advantages that business has, you are gonna go right back to cracking heads and child labor and -- because exploiting workers is the best thing for profits and the best thing for cutting costs. Things haven't changed since the 1920s.

GLORIA PENNER: I think we got your message loud and clear there. And you do paint a vivid picture, I must say. Respond to Alexander please.

ANDREW DONAHUE: Oh, I think he made his point. I'm gonna go back to the construction projects real quick. A lot of those deals are gonna be done through redevelopment. That was something that business and labor were both behind. So when you have those sort of construction projhects downtown, you could see a natural alliance between them.

GLORIA PENNER: Because it benefits both.

ANDREW DONAHUE: Because you have a whole lot of taxpayer money with no checks or balances there. You have both the labor unions and the hoteliers that are going to be pushing for those projects.

GLORIA PENNER: Just to follow up a little bit on what Alexander had to say, J. W., business is not in the greatest situation these days. Business is suffering beigeally. And when you suffer, sometimes you get desperate.

J. W. AUGUST: Yes, you do. You do things you maybe wouldn't do when times were good. Sit at the trough and eat.

GLORIA PENNER: Do you think that maybe what Alexander was saying has some credibility?

J. W. AUGUST: Absolutely he does. There are sweat shops in San Diego. Whether we want to know about them or find them all, that hire illegals to do the work. I'm not saying there's hundreds of thousands of people. But I've seen them, I've done stories on them. There was one in Upas in Texas, years ago, that operated under the nose of everybody. Some business interests would do things like that.

GLORIA PENNER: Does organized labor turn its back on those issues or what?

J. W. AUGUST: Are, they take care of their own, which is troubling. And I absolutely agree with what Andrew said. I think there's a difference between the government unions and the trade unions. And how they do their business and how they approach things and how they exercise their political muscle. And I think one -- I won't go into the wordiness of either side, but there's a basic difference we have to understand within the union movement and their motives.

GLORIA PENNER: Just to wrap this up, we can always see that the division between labor and business will have an impact on who we put into office, how we run campaigns.

J. W. AUGUST: Sure.

GLORIA PENNER: What decisions we make as a public?

BOB KITTLE: Sure, and it's interesting to note that in this election cycle on a national business basis, the single biggest contributor was public employee unions. They're I very big player in the political process.

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