Did Kevin Johnson work behind the scenes to fire Sacramento labor leader Bill Camp?

A look at the fight for strong mayor and Measure L and the SEIU

Bill Camp has always been against Kevin Johnson’s strong-mayor pitch. Did Johnson get Camp fired last week over the upcoming Measure L strong-mayor ballot initiative?

Bill Camp has always been against Kevin Johnson’s strong-mayor pitch. Did Johnson get Camp fired last week over the upcoming Measure L strong-mayor ballot initiative?

photo by darin smith

SN&R broke this story on its blog, Page Burner. Follow: www.newsreview.com/pageburner.

One thing you’d expect the Sacramento Central Labor Council to get right: following labor rules.

Yet Bill Camp, the labor council’s outspoken executive secretary, was fired without warning or reason last week—then reinstated after the AFL-CIO said his firing was illegal. Meanwhile, Camp’s supporters are now calling for the ouster of the labor leaders who tried to fire him.

All this is apparently due to Mayor Kevin Johnson’s efforts to peel off labor support for his strong-mayor initiative. If the mayor’s plan was to divide and conquer, he is halfway there.

The Sacramento Central Labor Council, or CLC, is made up of dozens of local labor unions, all coordinating to influence the political process and take action on issues important to labor. The people who fired Camp were CLC board president Lino Pedres, with the SEIU United Service Workers West union, and Margarita Maldonado, the labor council board’s recording secretary, who represents SEIU Local 1000.

Camp said he was not told why he was fired. “They just told me ’You’re fired, clean out your stuff.’”

But events leading up to Camp’s dismissal suggest a power struggle in the local labor movement over the divisive strong-mayor proposal Measure L, which will appear on the ballot this fall.

Since Johnson was elected in 2008, the CLC has taken a position against strong mayor. And, as executive secretary, Camp successfully sued to get a strong-mayor initative kicked off the ballot in 2010.

This time, however, Johnson convinced enough members of the council’s executive board—Camp’s bosses—to recommend that the larger CLC membership vote to endorse Measure L.

But on August 19, at a subsequent meeting of the larger body of delegates from more than two dozen local unions, Measure L again failed to get enough votes for an endorsement.

Unions supporting strong mayor included SEIU Local 1000 (state workers), the local firefighters, sheet-metal workers, and grocery workers with the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

Opposed were the stationary engineers (city workers), teachers and electrical workers, among others. SEIU Local 1021, which represents classified employees in the Sacramento City Unified School District, was also opposed.

The votes were weighted according to the number of members in each union, but even with the advantage of SEIU Local 1000’s 24,000 members, the largest bloc in the labor council, the pro side came up short.

Camp was vocal in his opposition. And delegates who attended the meeting said SEIU’s Maldonado was visibly upset about the outcome.

On the same day as the council’s Measure L vote, Grantland Johnson—local progressive hero and also a former labor-council employee—died. Camp was one of the people to deliver a eulogy at Johnson’s memorial service, attended by many political figures, including former Mayor Heather Fargo and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

During his comments, Camp mentioned that one of Grantland Johnson’s last political acts was to sign his name to the ballot argument against Measure L. This caused a stir among the supporters of Measure L present, who complained Camp’s remarks were inappropriate.

According to Camp, Pedres came to Camp’s home on Monday night and attempted to deliver a letter telling him he was fired. But Camp refused the letter, saying he had a right to have representation present.

“They screwed up big time,” says Tamara Rubyn, with the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 29, the union that represents Camp. “These unions would never let an employer do that to one of their members.” Another letter of termination was affixed to Camp’s office door Tuesday morning.

There was no meeting of the CLC executive board to vote on Camp’s removal. Instead, it appears that a phone poll had been taken the day before Camp was fired. Pedres told The Sacramento Bee that there was a unanimous decision by the labor council’s executive board to fire Camp.

But CLC Vice President Dean Murakami, who represents the Los Rios College Federation of Teachers, said he was never included in that decision, and he resigned in protest over the firing.

Since, Camp has been reinstated and Murakami’s resignation has been rescinded, too. Another executive board member also told SN&R they were not included in the vote to fire Camp.

The CLC’s handling of Camp prompted a letter from AFL-CIO officials in Washington, saying that the labor council had violated Camp’s rights.

Camp has been reinstated, but is now on paid leave pending an investigation into his work performance. The 70-year-old Camp—who has been in the job for 15 years, and who has become the face of the local labor movement—says he intends to retire next year.

Pedres, Maldonado and SEIU Local 1000 president Yvonne R. Walker did not respond to interview requests. Pedres said in a prepared statement that Camp’s firing and the current investigation are a personnel matter. He also told the Bee the firing was not about Measure L, though the timing and the personalities involved suggest a connection to many.

Camp’s firing was applauded by some. City Councilman Jay Schenirer, who helped loosen rules on big-box stores, a move which Camp opposed, told The Bee, “I don’t think Camp’s leadership style was effective in today’s environment.”

Union member and democratic activist Eric Sunderland countered that some of those cheering Camp’s removal “want a more corporate-friendly labor council lined up with developers and corporate interests.” Sunderland is among those now trying to remove Pedres and Maldonado from their leadership positions, calling their activities an attempted “coup.”

“I think the labor council will be better off in the long run, once we clean house a bit,” Sunderland said.

Harold Fong, a chapter president for SEIU Local 1000, joined Sunderland in handing out fliers in support of Camp at the annual Labor Day gathering of labor activists and political candidates in Land Park on Monday. Fong said members of his union have not been asked for their opinion on Measure L. And he objected to the treatment of Camp by SEIU leaders. “There was no due process at all. It’s totally contrary to what unions fight for.”

Like many picnic attendees, Fong wore an “L No!” sticker. And like many, he has also done battle with Camp over political issues. But Fong said CLC’s clumsy handling of Camp will likely increase the labor leader’s popularity. “He’ll just be more of a folk hero now.”

Another popular figure, Mayor Johnson, has been advocating for his strong-mayor plan since being elected in 2008. It has arguably been the nastiest and most divisive issue in Sacramento city politics for many years. Sacramento City Council member Steve Hansen, one of the most vocal opponents of Measure L, suggested the Camp affair hints at what is to come.

“Is this what Measure L is going to bring to Sacramento? When you disagree, you get fired? It’s a mess.”