Suspenders and Solidarity in Sacramento

by David Roddy,

SunderlandedThe annual Sacramento Central Labor Council Labor Day Picnic on Sept. 1, was divided over the removal of executive secretary Bill Camp, with his supporters wearing suspenders bearing a sticker declaring “L NO!,” in reference to Measure L, the latest attempt by Mayor Kevin Johnson to expand the executive power of the Sacramento Mayor’s office.

The suspenders were worn in solidarity with the recently ousted SCLC executive secretary Bill Camp (known for his folksy attire), whose abrupt firing by a group on the executive board led by council President Lino Pedres of SEIU 1877 is suspected by Camp’s supporters to be due to his opposition to Measure L, having led the effort to defeat a similar bill in 2010. Measure L, an initiative for the November ballot, plans to transition City Hall from a council-manager form of government to a mayor-council form, giving the mayor the power to appoint and unilaterally fire a city manager (now done by the entire council), oversee the creation of the city budget, and the ability to veto any changes to the budget and ordinances passed by the council.

The termination notice, taped to Camp’s door on August 29, has been rescinded after Camp’s union representative–Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 29–protested that Camp’s firing lacked due process. Camp is now on administrative leave and was told not to speak about his firing, which has led OPEIU 29 to file a grievance arguing Camp’s leave is without just cause and the gag order violates his free speech rights.

The previous week, Mayor Johnson persuaded a portion of the labor council’s executive board to recommend the council membership vote to endorse Measure L., reversing the body’s previous opposition to similar measures.

A meeting of the labor council delegates, however, failed to heed the executive board’s recommended endorsement, which, according to Camp’s supporters, the board attributed to Camp’s influence.  The traditionally conservative building trades and police unions, however, have backed the controversial measure, with the Sacramento-Sierra Building Trades & Construction Council, which represents over two dozen unions, announcing their full support on August 3.

The executive board’s attempted ousting of Bill Camp and move towards supporting Measure L signals a disturbing trend towards capitulation with a city council dominated by business interests. In the last two years, the council gutted a city mandate for mixed income housing and an ordinance designed to protect workers at “big box” retail stores, and labor backed candidates lost multiple races in the June election to corporate backed candidates close to the mayor.

Expressing his support for the ousting of Bill Camp, city council member Jay Schenirer told the Sacramento Bee that “We need a relationship where we are partnering with labor, rather than fighting with labor.” He did not elucidate how to best partner with labor while consistently siding with the interests of business.

The Sacramento Chamber of Commerce has historically been the primary backer of Mayor Johnson’s efforts to shift the power of city government towards his office, reflecting David Harvey’s observation that “Neoliberals tend to favor government by experts and elites. A strong preference exists for government by executive order and judicial decision rather than democratic and parliamentary decision making.” In October 2012, Johnson visited Bridgeport Connecticut to support local mayor Bill Finch’s attempt to gain supreme control over Bridgeport’s school board. In an interview with SN&R, ( Sacramento News and Review)  Johnson explained his support for such strong mayor reforms:

“You have some mayors in some cities—not Sacramento—where they have control of the schools. What does that mean? They can appoint a superintendent. They appoint a school board. So you’re taking out the politics.”

According to Harvey, “taking out the politics” (which admittedly sounds better than “taking out the democracy”) is the best means for government to respond to the interests of business, which reigns supreme under neoliberal ideology. Any conflict with working communities is ameliorated by weakening the power of locally elected representatives, cutting off the possibility of reforms that would limit the ability of businesses to conduct themselves in the most profitable manner.

Schenirer told the bee that the leadership of  Camp, a long-time champion of the rights of workers and the poor, was from “a distant time.” In a sense, he is right, and that in itself is a tragedy. Hopefully, progressive labor activists in Sacramento will soon hang up their suspenders after a full reinstatement of Bill Camp.

Bio: David Roddy is an activist from Sacramento who currently serves on the National Political Committee of the Democratic Socialists of America.



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