Building & Trades Unions Say City Hall Protest Isn't Political Show -- It's All About Jobs, Jobs, JOBS!

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Joe Eskenazi
Mike Theriault, head of the Building & Construction Trades Council, wants jobs. When does he want them? Now.

A crowd of 300 to 400 soggy, hardhat-and-overalls-wearing union men and women -- many of whom, sadly, had no other engagements at noon on a working day -- stood at City Hall Plaza throughout a persistent drizzle for a demonstration today. We know they were there; we saw them. We don't know exactly why they were there because everyone seems to have a different answer to that question. 

Mike Theriault -- the secretary-treasurer of the San Francisco Building & Trades Council and the M.C. of the Alex Tourk-organized event -- told the folks in the media who've "garbled" labor's message in no uncertain terms what this demonstration wasn't about.

"They say this is a fight between the mayor and the board of supervisors -- and it's not about that. They say it's a fight between labor and members of the board of supervisors" -- perhaps Chris Daly, who stood, alone, off to the side, texting -- "but it's not about that either," roared Theriault into his microphone.

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"They say other things that don't even deserve to be described here" -- like how this is tied into Plumber's Union head Larry Mazzola, Jr.'s being denied a seat on the Golden Gate Bridge Transportation Authority, or the subsequent Building & Construction Trades picket line at the "Democratic Unity" lunch, or any notion that elements of labor and the left aren't buddy-buddy these days.

No, Theriault described all those theories in "one word -- bullshit!" This line received the roar of approval it was designed for.

So, what's it all about? The union folks say it's all about ... City Planning Codes Nos. 10 and 11 (this was not a line received with a roar). The folks standing on the back of the flatbed truck and bellowing into the microphone said they could live with last year's voter-approved Prop. J -- which created a historic preservation commission -- but this legislation approved by Aaron Peskin and pushed by Chris Daly takes things too far.  

Here, in a nutshell, is the Building & Trades Union line: Language within these codes would allow a small group of NIMBYs to halt any project at the 11th hour, even after hundreds of thousands of dollars of preliminary work has been done by the developer and numerous city departments have given the green light. Even "contributing resources" in a historic district (fire hydrants? Trees? Gum spat on the pavement by Jack London?) is protected and this would destroy the financial lending environment and -- wait for it -- cost union folks their jobs.

To hammer home the point that this was all about the jobs, a procession of down-on-their-luck union workers took the microphone to share their stories of unemployment and lack of health insurance. The workers all hailed from San Francisco; the audience drew from up and down the Peninsula and across the Bay.

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Supervisor David Chiu "works the room"

Theriault then brought a couple of speakers up onto the flatbed who may never have foreseen that they'd one day spend their lunch breaks being feted by adoring audiences of rain-soaked union workers (from a flatbed): Planning Commission Vice President Christina Olague and David Chiu, the president of the board of supervisors.

Olague prefaced her remarks by saying "the last thing I'll do is bash Chris Daly or Aaron Peskin, who are both strong allies of low-income commnities of color and labor" but went on to say that the current dialog about construction vs. preservation lacked "reason and balance" -- which could only come about through extensive discussions between the Supes, Planning Commission and, yes, labor and low-income communities of color (You watch, this is what's going to happen).

Let it be said here: David Chiu knows how to work a room. Taking the microphone to cries of "Help us, David!" he quickly won over the crowd by noting that "San Francisco was built on your backs, and we all know that." Chiu went on to note that the supervisors were listening to the unions on "how to move this city forward" and made a deft pun about the rain falling on the union workers' heads and the "rain of economic hard times" ... falling on the union workers' heads.

The supe noted that "there are good people on both sides of this debate" and claimed that Daly and Peskin helped approve more construction than any city politicians since the 1960s -- "From my perspective, we have to stop fighting." Chiu slowed his diction to emphasize this statement; make of it what you will. Chiu then quickly noted that Sections 10 and 11 -- the ostensible cause for the unions' rancor -- only pertain to perhaps 2 percent of the city's structures; Section 10 impacts around 1 percent of San Francisco while Section 11 deals with a small core of the Financial District.

What? How many jobs could possibly be squeezed out of future work there? This is cause for a noontime protest at City Hall -- in which the crowd was made to chant "Jobs Now! Jobs Now! Jobs Now!"  Or is it more about how Tim Paulsen, the executive director of San Francisco's Labor Council, can note -- repeatedly -- that "this is not a fight" with "many of the supervisors you [unions] helped elect" and Chiu can acknowledge that unions are being listened to -- and "we have to stop fighting"? (Chiu charitably suggests that critics "misunderstand" Sections 10 and 11).

Which brings us back to Olague's suggestion that everybody in the city needs to get together and talk -- and talk and talk -- about this. She notes, incidentally, that if more neighborhoods -- including the Mission or Bayview/Hunters Point -- are declared historic districts, then the impact of Sections 10 and 11 would be augmented. So, by all means, bring in those low-income communities of color to the table. And, since there are four different versions of Sections 10 and 11 being bandied about -- submitted by the Supes, Historic Preservation Commission, Planning Commission and Planning Department -- bring them in too. And bring in labor, and the developers (as if they wouldn't be there in one form or another), and anyone we're forgetting.

We'll see if the talking cure puts things right between preservationists and builders in this city. And, while we're at it, perhaps it will heal the political rifts the union guys say this demonstration wasn't about.

Maybe it'll get folks jobs, too.


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