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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Supervisors Try to Save Jobs of Those Who Got Them Their Jobs

Posted By on Tue, Nov 24, 2009 at 1:30 PM

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For the past two weeks, the progressives on the Board of Supervisors have been falling all over themselves to protect the jobs of health department workers who belong to SEIU Local 1021. Why are lefty board members going to such lengths to protect these jobs in the midst of a financial meltdown? Part of it is ideological: The leftist supes are philosophically simpatico with a union representing health care and social-service workers. There's also a reasonable argument to be made that more high-paid managers should be getting the ax instead of a bunch of modestly compensated clerks and nursing assistants.

But let's get real. The primary reason the progressives supes are contorting themselves to save SEIU jobs is pure politics. After all, many of the supervisors owe their jobs to the city's largest union -- something that has been overlooked in news coverage about the latest layoff drama.

Last year, SEIU Local 1021 was the second-largest cash donor to local labor's soft-money operation to elect supervisors Eric Mar, David Chiu and John Avalos in three crucial swing districts. Campaign finance records show that Local 1021 gave $103,566 to two political action committees controlled by the San Francisco Labor Council, which spent more than $400,000 to elect Mar, Chiu, and Avalos. Those numbers don't tell the whole story since they don't account for non-monetary donations like union volunteers campaigning on behalf of labor's chosen candidates.

But the current machinations on the board aren't just about making good on a past political debt; SEIU support in future elections is critical to maintaining a progressive majority on the board. The left found a winning formula -- the backing of labor combined with control of the local Democratic Party -- in supervisorial elections last year, one that it will no doubt seek to repeat in 2010.

Still, SEIU Local 1021 leaders must be starting to wonder whether they're getting a good return on their political investment. Even though they elected a labor-friendly majority, it seems like they've lost all their major battles this year, or at least didn't get what they wanted (such as a revenue measure on the ballot). They appear poised to lose this latest budget dustup, too, despite a Hail Mary resolution introduced by their friends on the board. Let's face it, in San Francisco, the mayor -- who is no fan of SEIU -- calls the shots, and he answers to a different set of special interests.

Will Harper is SF Weekly's managing editor. He has covered Bay Area politics for more than 15 years.

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