Take the Filner Challenge: Advance the Union Political Agenda

An article in the August 3, 2013 UT San Diego newspaper (Labor Continues to Back Filner) reported on what political insiders in San Diego already recognized: Mayor Bob Filner’s “list of supporters has shrunk to just one major group – organized labor and its allies…labor is steadfastly refusing to call for him to leave.”

It quoted Tom Lemmon, the head of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council, as saying “It’s an awkward situation, but we have a lot invested in him. We believe in due process, so let it take its course.” A construction association based in San Diego anointed this statement with “the Worst Quote of the Decade Award.”

Other union leaders, including the head of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, used better judgment and apparently declined to speak to the UT San Diego reporter about their loyalty to Mayor Filner. “Richard Barrera, who replaced Lorena Gonzalez as head of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council earlier this year, has remained silent on Filner’s status since issuing a statement on July 18.”

Mayor Filner has begun two weeks of therapy with his self-esteem enhanced by a major political victory for his union backers. As reported in the July 30, 2013 www.UnionWatch.org article After 33 Years, San Diego Submits to State Prevailing Wage Law, the 5-4 Democrat majority on the San Diego City Council approved his proposal to impose state prevailing wage mandates on city construction contracts.

He’ll return from his therapy rested and ready to work on implementing his new (reversed) position in support of the San Diego Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion, which construction unions expect to monopolize with a Project Labor Agreement. That project is estimated to cost $520 million, or more than $1 billion including interest on the money that will be borrowed through bond sales.

Mayor Filner will also have the opportunity to abandon the traditional calculations of a politician and pursue a leftist policy agenda that The Nation magazine has only been able to dream about for cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. (See the April 13, 2013 article Wanted: A Progressive Mayor.) What more does Filner have to lose in the next 18 months if he unabashedly promotes and pushes a robust union-backed agenda through the 5-4 Democrat majority on the city council?

Surely his Director of Special Projects and Labor Affairs isn’t going to advise him to proceed with a moderate, middle-of-the-road approach to policy. She’s a former organizer and political director for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 569.

For 15 years, San Diego has been a battleground region between traditional Republican free market principles and traditional Democrat government intervention in commerce. While the Republican Party has disappeared as a relevant political force in the San Francisco Bay Area and in most of Los Angeles County, the Republican Party of San Diego County has managed to maintain a close balance between the two ideologies.

In this contentious political environment, Bob Filner can now try to prove that using government to strengthen the power of labor unions will make the City of San Diego a place that brims with social justice, enlightenment, and happiness. Union leaders obviously see him as the right man at the right time for this endeavor.

Meanwhile, supporters of free markets and fiscal responsibility should welcome Bob Filner’s leadership in pursuing this vision. Unlike Detroit, the City of San Diego has a strong political infrastructure in opposition that can make Filner and the Democrats on the city council accountable to the voters when their union-backed leftist policies are a tainted disaster.


Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.

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