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Building Trades End Legislative Session As A Big Political Loser

By unknown - Golden State Grid, September 9, 2022

What You Need To Know:

  • The California Building and Construction Trades Council came down on the losing side of key legislative fights and party platform disputes this legislative session, and found itself crosswise with Governor Newsom and other leading unions on a much-hyped electric vehicle ballot measure.

  • These losses reflect a stunning fall from grace for The Trades, an organization that political insiders and journalists often treat as an all powerful force in Sacramento with the juice to successfully back, or block, key legislation.

  • This year’s losses worsened an already rapidly widening rift between The Trades and key Democratic power players, including other key labor unions, the Newsom Administration, and even senior leadership within the Democratic Party. 

  • This sudden loss of influence corresponds with the tenure of Andrew Meredith, the new and largely untested leader of The Trades, who has positioned the organization as a juggernaut that could threaten and bully the Democratic Party and its leaders into submission—a strategy that appears to be backfiring. 

More context on a big loser of a year for the building trades council:

  • Newsom’s Climate Package. When Governor Newsom outlined his vision for a set of climate bills in August, which he made clear would be his signature legislative package for the year, Andrew Meredith was not impressed. He fired off a letter from The Trades describing the governor’s vision as “anti-worker”, and then sent it to every lawmaker in the state with a note labeling the union’s position on the plan as “STRONG OPPOSE”. Meredith’s missive included specific opposition to a “setback requirement” that bans oil drilling within 3200 feet of schools, homes, and hospitals. To give you a sense of how far outside the mainstream Meredith positioned The Trades, consider that California is the only oil producing state without such a setback—meaning even Republicans in Texas are to the left of Andrew Meredith on this issue. Ultimately, the legislature passed five of the six bills in Newsom’s agenda, including the setback requirement. 

  • An Affordable Housing Bill. The legislature passed AB-2011, a housing measure with the potential to generate a million desperately needed apartments throughout the state that had the backing of large labor groups like the California Conference of Carpenters, California Teachers Association, and SEIU California. But The Trades opposed the bill because it didn’t include a provision that required construction workers to be “skilled and trained,” which is a misleading way to say that they need to have graduated from a union apprenticeship program. The problem with such a requirement is that most construction workers don’t seem interested in such an apprenticeship program; and, even if they were stoked on the idea, the capacity to enroll people in the program is extremely limited. The upshot then is that these provisions can lock working people out of well-paying jobs and slow down the production of housing units in the middle of an unprecedented housing crisis. Thus, lawmakers ignored The Trades’ opposition and sent the bill to Newsom’s desk. 

  • Party Platform Problems. Meredith threw a temper tantrum over the inclusion of new climate provisions in the California Democratic Party platform, planks that reflected that the party was taking seriously a goal of zero-emissions by 2045 and the need for a just transition for impacted workers. Meredith’s epic meltdown included what the L.A. Times described charitably as “a testy exchange” with the committee chairwoman whom Meredith characterized as “shameful.” Meredith also used his coveted speaking slot at the California Democrats’ annual convention to threaten his fellow Democrats over not getting his way on the climate provisions, saying of the Building Trades—“we as an organization will not be silenced … we aren’t a charity and our support is never a given.” He even took to Twitter to whine about how “deeply divided delegates… doesn’t bode well for Dems in midterm elections,” falsely implying that tensions existed within the party over climate priorities, forcing three separate party leaders to publicly chastise him and explain that he didn’t know what he was talking about.

  • A Lyft-sponsored electric vehicles ballot measure. Proposition 30 would impose a tax on billionaires and other uber-wealthy individuals earning over $2 million per year to help fund electric vehicles in California. The Trades lauded the measure, calling it “a transformational ballot measure that will provide good-paying green jobs”. But Governor Newsom joined prominent environmental groups and the California Teachers Association in strong opposition to the measure on the grounds that it would have the effect of providing a public hand-out to ride-sharing giants like Lyft who must transition their fleet to electric vehicles over the next decade to comply with a recently enacted state law. The measure will be on the ballot this November, but the fact that Newsom opposed it over objections from The Trades illustrates the waning influence of the group under Meredith’s leadership. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author.

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