Labor pains

Kevin Johnson’s strong-mayor initiative may be stillborn

Why is Sacramento City Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy smiling?

Why is Sacramento City Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy smiling?

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When Kevin Johnson was running for mayor, he locked up key endorsements across the political spectrum—cops and firefighters, Republicans and the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce, along with critical support from the Sacramento Central Labor Council.

During the campaign, Johnson told SN&R, “I can’t be defined on one side of the aisle.” But now that he’s in office, a big chunk of Johnson’s winning coalition, labor, is breaking away. That could be costly for him in June, when Johnson’s strong-mayor initiative appears on the ballot.

“He hasn’t been as much of an advocate for working families as he had promised he would be during the campaign,” said Zak Ford, an organizer with the Sacramento Central Labor Council. Ford and other labor leaders were angered by Johnson’s removal of Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy from the powerful Law and Legislation Committee.

Sheedy has enjoyed strong support from the labor council during her eight years in office, but she was replaced on the committee by Ray Tretheway, who came over to Johnson’s side during an important council vote to put his strong-mayor proposal on the ballot in June 2010. Sheedy opposed Johnson.

The mayor’s people say these moves are just routine. “Reassigning council members to different committees has been standard operating procedure for every Sacramento mayor,” said Johnson consultant Steve Maviglio.

But Sheedy’s labor supporters were incensed by what they see as political payback. “I think it was very clear retribution—those who went to his side were rewarded, and his antagonists were punished,” said Greg Larkins, also with the labor council.

Sheedy has not publicly complained about the reassignment. In fact, during a meeting on September 15, in which the council was scheduled to vote on Johnson’s committee moves, Sheedy said it was “time to move on.”

During the same meeting, Tretheway said he didn’t really want the committee job, and that he tried to let the mayor know, “But I guess voice mails don’t always get through.” Ultimately, the council agreed to postpone the vote on Johnson’s reassignments until September 29.

Before the Sheedy incident, it was Johnson’s failure to support a city council resolution endorsing the federal Employee Free Choice Act that angered labor. Also known as “card check,” EFCA would make it easier for unions to sign up new members. It was a big priority for congressional Democrats this year, and for the labor movement nationally. According to mayoral spokesman Steve Maviglio, Johnson was heavily lobbied by the chamber and other business groups to vote against the measure. Instead, Johnson abstained, on the grounds that federal legislation is not in the purview of the city council.

Asked whether Johnson supported the concept of EFCA, Maviglio replied, “He didn’t even take a position on that.”

The biggest rift yet seems to be developing around Johnson’s strong-mayor initiative. The labor council hasn’t taken a formal position yet on the strong-mayor initiative, but was firmly opposed to putting it on the June 2010 ballot.

Bill Camp, who is secretary of the Labor Council, faulted the proposal for giving the mayor veto power over city budget items and other fiscal decisions, including collective-bargaining agreements.

“That’s minority rule,” Camp said, drawing a parallel to the dysfunctional state Legislature and its two-thirds vote requirements. “I think that’s a really dumb way to run a government.”

Labor is also a major player in SAVE Sacramento, a new group formed to stop the strong-mayor plan that’s being funded and organized by the Democratic Party of Sacramento County and the Sacramento Sierra Building and Construction Trades Council.

“I’m not against reform. I just think it’s vitally important to get the input of the city council and the community,” said Matt Kelly, executive secretary of the Building and Construction Trades Council.

“The proponents claim this will make us a world-class city. We want to know exactly how giving the mayor all this power is going to make us a world-class city.”

Asked if the mayor worried that labor might sink his strong-mayor campaign in June, Maviglio said not especially.

“I don’t think ‘worried’ is the right word,” he said, noting that legislative and city council races will be competing for the labor council’s attention. “Labor is going to have a lot of fish to fry this June.”

On the other hand, the labor defection, coming so early in Johnson’s tenure, isn’t good news for the June campaign.

“People who supported the mayor, who thought they were going to have a good relationship with him, feel like they’ve been deceived,” Kelly said. “They are repositioning themselves accordingly.”