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Strange Bedfellows

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It's hard to imagine organized labor and the thoroughly anti-labor Chamber of Commerce on the same side, especially in a city like San Francisco with a major union presence.

It's especially hard to imagine it at a time when unions everywhere are joining with Occupy Wall Streeters to demand justice from anti-labor business and corporate leaders like those who control the Chamber.

But consider what Tim Paulson, executive director of SF's Labor Council, and President Steve Falk of the SF Chamber of Commerce had to say in a joint statement about the results of Tuesday's election.

They were downright overjoyed about the passage of Proposition C, which will raise the amounts city employees must pay toward their less-than lucrative pensions and limit future cost-of-living raises. That's a way to avoid raising business taxes to maintain city services in these recessionary times.

Perhaps most distressing, the passage of Prop C shifted control of the City Health Service System from the employees who are covered by the system to City Hall appointees who won't have to demonstrate any particular experience in health care matters.

At least Paulson and Falk said they were pleased with the defeat of Public Defender Jeff Adachi's outrageous Prop D – even though it would have changed the city pension system in almost exactly the same ways as Prop C.

In any case, the difference between C and D was not necessarily their content, but how they got on to the ballot.

Why, exclaimed Paulson in a separate, self-congratulatory statement, the results "sent new shock waves across San Francisco and America as workers demonstrated that collaborative democracy is the best way to set public policy."

Collaborative democracy? By that I guess Tim was referring to the joining together of labor leaders and public employee unions and Chamber of Commerce members in a coalition with city officials, non-profit social agencies and community groups to put Prop C on the ballot.

The collaborators didn't even include representatives of the retired employees whose health care would be seriously affected and who were quite active in helping elect labor-friendly candidates.

Paulson, a generally ineffective leader who always seems to be seeking approval of the City establishment, singled out billionaire Warren Hellman for being one of the principal collaborators.

Paulson boasted that every city employee union joined in what he actually described as "a real San Francisco way of doing things." Hardly. If there really were such a thing, it would be a far cry from the "collaborative" approach that involved labor giving in to the wishes of its anti-labor corporate and business opponents.

Paulson and Falk claimed the approach will be "a model for the rest of the country." Thankfully for the rest of the country, that seems highly unlikely given the widespread demands for actual reform triggered by the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Negotiations between labor and management eventually reach agreements that both can live with, albeit often uncomfortably. But no agreement can be reached, or should be reached, when one party – the Chamber of Commerce in this case – is not seeking real compromise with an enemy – namely unions – that it would like to put out of business, or at least seriously weaken. Unions, of course, have the same feelings about union foes like the Chamber.

Tim Paulson actually declared the election results "a great victory during difficult times."
Copyright © 2011 Dick Meister