California unions cheer big Newsom win

SACRAMENTO—With one exception, California unions, which went all-out to defeat a right-wing recall campaign/coup attempt against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, cheered the landslide vote against his ouster. And their foot soldiers and ground game were a big reason for Newsom’s runaway.

With all the votes counted, “no” on recall had almost two-thirds of the votes, rendering a separate vote on which right-wing Republican would replace Newsom, should he have lost, moot.

The recall election was important to union members nationwide. With Newsom and a heavily pro-worker majority in the state legislature, the nation’s most-populous state is an incubator for pro-worker laws and executive actions.

For example, the state Supreme Court first ruled Uber and Lyft could not misclassify their drivers as “independent contractors,” depriving them of all workers’ rights. Lawmakers passed and Newsom signed a law (AB5) codifying that—before the rideshare firms mounted a $220 million referendum campaign of lies to successfully overturn it.

And on Sept. 13, Newsom signed a new law, SB639, eliminating the sub-minimum wage for disabled workers by 2025—a measure authored by State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, a longtime Unite Here Local 11 officer and former president of the Los Angeles County Federation Labor.

And during the prior GOP Trump regime in the nation’s capital, California, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New York led the way in resistance to its white nationalism, stripping workers of their rights and protections, denial of science—including denial of the coronavirus pandemic—racism and xenophobia.

“Union members and our families made the difference in this election by rejecting the recall and ensuring Gov. Gavin Newsom can continue his work building a stronger, more prosperous California,” national AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler declared. She spent the prior weekend campaigning for him.

“However, it cannot be lost on any of us that this attempted power grab wasted time, money and focus on an ultimately futile attempt to oust a popular and respected public servant,” Shuler warned.

“Rather than a race for meaningful change, the California recall election was a race to the bottom in search of the most anti-worker and anti-union candidate to replace Gov. Newsom.

“Tonight we celebrate this victory, and tomorrow we get back to the real work at hand of rebuilding the economy for working people. With this distraction behind us, we now turn our attention to electing pro-worker candidates to state, local and federal office.”

Trumpites in once-deep-red, now-purple Orange County engineered the recall campaign, with resistance to anti-pandemic mandates as their “cover.” But that echoed Donald Trump and Newsom successfully turned the vote into a referendum on Trumpism. Newsom won and Trumpism lost, big.

That cheered the California Labor Federation, which mobilized thousands of unionists for phone-banking and door-knocking, despite the pandemic, to urge “no” votes on the recall and no vote at all on the 40 odd Republicans, led by extreme right-wing talk show host Larry Elder, running to take Newsom’s job.

“Tonight our shared values as Californians emerge not just intact, but stronger than ever. By a landslide, Californians rejected calls by right-wing Republicans to roll back decades of progress on worker protections, including the minimum wage, paid family leave, health and safety, and immigrant rights,” said Art Pulaski, California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer.

“Working people didn’t just vote in large numbers,” but also “volunteered like never before to seal this win. When this campaign began, unions set a goal of 10,000 volunteers to get out the vote. In the months since, we more than doubled that in total volunteer shifts, walking more than 8,000 miles in support of Gov. Newsom. This was one of the largest field campaigns the state has ever seen.”

Newsom’s campaign was tied with the pro-recall vote until a press conference, with the governor flanked by union leaders backing him, in Sacramento. Together they detailed the state government’s achievements for workers and other Californians. Then his numbers started to rise.

Armed with that, the unionists helped “turn the tide in this campaign, engaging voters personally on the high stakes in this election,” Pulaski said.

“The unprecedented ground game powered by unions, community groups and the Newsom campaign is the heart and soul of this victory and its contribution to tonight’s win can’t be overstated.” But there are “major challenges ahead” due to “the ongoing pandemic and the economic hardship it’s caused.”

Newsom also had outside help from Democratic bigwigs, up to and including President Joe Biden, who headlined an election eve rally. Others included Vice President Kamala Harris, a San Franciscan, former state Attorney General and U.S. senator from California, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt.

Shuler and AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, who as an AFSCME political director led the successful effort to turn his home Orange County from deep-red and right-wing to a purple county that elects Democrats, including to Congress, went door-knocking and tramping sidewalks for Newsom and against the recall in the campaign’s final weekend.

“Gov. Newsom has been and will continue to be a staunch supporter of labor, and we are committed to making sure he stays in office where he belongs,” Sacramento Central Labor Council Executive Director Fabrizio Sasso said when unionists launched their drive. “This recall attempt is nothing more than a power grab. We won’t let it happen.”

The Teachers (AFT) also chipped in, with people and money, news reports said. AFT’s state affiliate contributed $1.8 million to the effort, and the national union added $250,000, CalMatters reported. President E. Toby Boyd cited Newsom’s pro-education platform and higher funding for schools.

Boyd called defeat of the recall “a victory for our students, public education and working families. Voting in large numbers during an off-election year, Californians said ‘no’ to compromising our values, ‘no’ to shortchanging our students and their safety, and ‘no’ to dismantling public education.”

But campaign money to Newsom also led to the lone union sitting out the race, Service Employees Local 1000. It represents thousands of state workers. The SEIU state council voted to campaign against the recall, executive director Bob Schoonover said.

“Gov. Newsom has had our back through unprecedented crises, and now we have his,” Schoonover said then. “He delivered critical lifelines and relief to families hardest hit by the pandemic and launched a once-in-a-generation recovery plan” to “build a better future for all…The extremist, partisan forces behind the recall are trying to force an election because they can’t win in a normal election.”

By contrast, Local 1000’s new president, Richard Louis Brown, ousted his predecessor, Yvonne Walker, in May and opposing Newsom was his issue. Brown’s key complaints: She gave Newsom contract concessions during the pandemic but still pushed a $1 million donation to the anti-recall campaign through the local’s separate campaign finance committee.

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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