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CA labor group opens up endorsement for SF Senate seat after backing Wiener in primary

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State Senator Scott Wiener. Photo: Rick Gerharter
State Senator Scott Wiener. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

After backing gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) in the March primary, the powerful California Labor Federation has decided to open up its endorsement process for November's election.

The decision means that unions belonging to the federation can make their own endorsements in the race.

The federation includes over 1,200 AFL-CIO and Change to Win labor unions in the Golden State. The decision allows local labor councils to make their own endorsements in the race, said Steve Smith, communications director for the federation.

Wiener is facing a challenge from queer educator Jackie Fielder, a democratic socialist, for the 11th District Senate seat that includes all of San Francisco and a small part of northern San Mateo County.

"We made an endorsement for the primary election and Wiener did get that endorsement," Smith said in a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "The San Francisco Labor Council — the body in the area — recommended the open-ended endorsement to the statewide body."

Fielder campaign coordinator Julian LaRosa told the B.A.R. that if the labor federation is open to considering an endorsement of Fielder, they would pursue it; but he said Wednesday it wasn't clear what its process would be.

Many unions have already endorsed Wiener in the race.

In a written statement to the B.A.R. August 5, Wiener listed many of the "major unions in California" that have endorsed him, including the Service Employees International Union, the California School Employees Association and Teamsters Joint Council No. 7. He also touted his support for Assembly Bill 5, the controversial gig worker bill that Governor Gavin Newsom signed last year.

"I'm grateful to the unions that stood with me today — the ones that recognize and remember my long and steadfast support for the labor movement. I have a lifetime 100% voting score with the California Labor Federation," Wiener stated in part. "The California Labor Federation's action today is disappointing and short-sighted. It sends a powerful message to legislators that you can stand strong with labor for many years, but it's not enough."

Wiener attributed the decision to Senate Bill 899, a housing bill he introduced.

"The bill at issue — SB 899 — is about nonprofits building low-income housing. The bill fully complies with agreements we've made with the building trades over the years on labor standards. We even sent the bill language to the trades before we introduced it, and the trades signed off on the bill and said they had no objection," Wiener explained.

"Three months later, the trades changed their position, which they are entitled to do. Once the trades communicated that new position to me, we immediately began to engage to try and reach a resolution. Rather than engage, the trades quickly escalated, running vile digital ads attacking me and going after my Labor Fed endorsement," he added.

Wiener said that he has a long-standing relationship with trade unions, going back 15 years.

"We have worked hand-in-glove on many issues of concern to workers," he stated. "I strongly support labor agreements and ensuring that construction workers are paid middle class wages. This current situation is tragic and not reflective of my long support for working people.

"I hope that cooler heads prevail moving forward," Wiener added.

Fielder has labor endorsements of her own, including the California Teachers Association, American Federation of Teachers Local 2121 (City College of San Francisco), according to her campaign website.

The California Faculty Association endorsed both candidates.

The news comes just days after financial figures from February through June show that Fielder had over four times as many individual donors as Wiener, as 48 Hills reported August 3. Wiener still led in fundraising during that time, however, raising $265,000 to Fielder's $215,000.

Wiener also still has a significant campaign war chest, with over $800,000 in the bank.

Wiener won 55.7% of the vote in the March primary against Fielder, who garnered 33.2% of the vote. Republican Erin Smith, a transgender woman, won 11.1% of the vote. As the top two vote-getters, Wiener and Fielder have advanced to the November 3 election.

Wiener has close ties to San Francisco's Democratic Party establishment, while Fielder is running a campaign backed by the local Democratic Socialists of America chapter, the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, and other progressive groups.

After the initial publication of this story, San Francisco Labor Council Executive Director Rudy Gonzalez said Wiener no longer has a 100% voting record.

"The council recommended Scott's endorsement based upon his prior voting record," Gonzalez stated in an August 5 email to the B.A.R. "There has been a change in endorsement because Scott has made a decision to turn against union labor."

Gonzalez stated that Wiener was asked to "work through some disagreements" with the unions.

"Rather than use this time to reset and get back on track, he threw away his record and showed a real lack of character by attempting to drive wedges within the labor movement. Instead of circling wagons to protect his political career we had hoped he would stand with working people," Gonzalez stated. "It came across as cynical and on the side of developers who would sooner profit than lift up worker standards and promote pathways to good jobs through apprenticeship.

"Every legislator should take note that turning against working people will be answered swiftly and without regret," Gonzalez added. "Scott doesn't deserve the backing of the California Labor Federation if this is how he intends to pursue his political career. I look forward to getting back to that 100% voting record we are hearing so much about — be it with him or Jackie Fielder."

In a statement August 6, Wiener disputed Gonzalez's characterization.

"Every single year I've been in the Senate, I've received a 100% labor score," Wiener stated. "The Labor Federation hasn't issued a scorecard for 2020, won't do so until next year, and has not stated that it will score SB 899. The Senate voted 39-0 to pass SB 899, essentially a unanimous vote. If the Labor Federation scores SB 899, then 29 out of 40 senators will receive a negative score on the bill."

Updated, 8/6/20: This article has been updated with comments from the SF Labor Council and additional comments from Sen. Wiener.

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