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Out-of-work San Franciscans descend upon City Hall with a special holiday request

December 23, 2010

San Francisco workers and advocates deliver 1,000 Christmas cards asking Mayor Newsom to sign community’s local hiring law by Christmas Eve

by Brightline Defense Project

Josh Arce of Brightline Defense (left), Willie Ratcliff of Liberty Builders and the Bay View newspaper (right), ABU (Aboriginal Blackmen United), Chinese for Affirmative Action and PODER present 1,000 Christmas cards requesting Mayor Newsom put the “merry” back in Christmas and the “happy” back in New Year by signing the nation’s strongest local hire ordinance, sponsored by Supervisor John Avalos. – Photo: San Francisco Bay Guardian
San Francisco – With unemployment at its highest in decades and one day after the Chronicle reported that 41 percent more San Franciscans requested assistance feeding themselves and their families this year, dozens of out-of-work San Francisco residents convened at City Hall on Wednesday, Dec. 22, to ask Mayor Gavin Newsom to sign the local hiring law that a super-majority of the Board of Supervisors passed last week.

Workers and advocates brought 1,000 Christmas cards signed by residents of Bayview Hunters Point, Chinatown, the Mission, the Tenderloin, South of Market and other neighborhoods asking the mayor to “put the Merry into Christmas and the Happy back into New Year” by signing the landmark jobs measure sponsored by Supervisor John Avalos by Christmas Eve. As recounted by the San Francisco Bay Guardian, two Santa Claus bags full of Christmas cards were delivered to the Mayor’s Office, with Chief of Staff Steve Kawa accepting them in the mayor’s absence. “These are awfully heavy,” Kawa commented.

Last week, Bayview-based job advocates Aboriginal Blackmen United (ABU) circulated a letter to Mayor Newsom with the “put the Merry into Christmas” jobs slogan attached, and the letter reached Newsom himself late last Friday. The idea caught on, with community advocates Brightline Defense Project printing up 1,000 more cards, on 100 percent recycled paper no less, and working with ABU and other organizations such as Chinese for Affirmative Action, PODER, the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the SF Bay View newspaper to collect signatures from unemployed workers, activists and concerned citizens throughout the city.

ABU’s Joseph Greene, an out-of-work member of the Cement Masons union trying to work his way into the Laborers union, could be seen collecting signatures in every neighborhood in San Francisco over the past several days. Supervisors Avalos, Bevan Dufty and Eric Mar even got in on the action, penning local hiring Christmas cards to Mayor Newsom.

San Francisco’s local hiring law is believed to be the nation’s strongest, requiring 20 percent of all workers within each construction trade to be local residents starting in 2011, with an emphasis on workers from disadvantaged backgrounds and neighborhoods. That number will increase 5 percent annually, as local workers join trades where community representation is lacking, before reaching 50 percent. An op-ed this week by Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting noted that the local hiring law will strengthen the city’s middle class tax base by creating jobs, while the City Controller estimates the measure will pump $270 million into the local economy over the next 10 years.

Accepting the cards, Mayoral Chief of Staff Steve Kawa noted how heavy the two red Santa bags packed with cards felt – heavy with the hopes of San Francisco’s out-of-work workers. – Photo: San Francisco Bay Guardian
Advocates have already begun reaching out to the Bay Area cities of Oakland and Richmond to pursue reciprocity agreements that ensure opportunities for other Bay Area cities on jobs not performed by San Francisco residents. This week, the San Mateo Board of Supervisors tried to fill the stockings of unemployed San Franciscans with coal by asking Mayor Newsom to veto the community’s local hiring law. San Mateo County, which contains cities like East Palo Alto that have local hiring ordinances, complained after San Francisco approved a local hiring policy of its own that the Avalos law would take away work for San Mateo workers at the San Francisco Airport and on the Hetch Hetchy Water System Improvement Project.

“Didn’t the San Mateo Supervisors bother to read our legislation?” was the refrain heard around San Francisco City Hall yesterday, however, as both the Airport and the Water System Project were specifically exempted from the measure that currently sits on Mayor Newsom’s desk, leaving an estimated 20 jobs demolishing the San Bruno jail as the only work in San Mateo County impacted by the San Francisco local hiring ordinance. The Avalos law would require four of those jobs for San Francisco residents if that project goes forward next year.

“We’re here to say that we are not going to let these San Mateo politicians who can’t even read ruin our Christmas,” said ABU president James Richards, a journey-level member of the Electricians union and a union contractor, who came up with the local hiring Christmas card idea. “We want the mayor to stand with us instead of them and put the Merry into Christmas.”

“Mayor Newsom has in front of him a law that works for the city, for the region, for labor, for contractors and, most importantly, for our unemployed and job-hungry communities,” said Brightline Executive Director Joshua Arce, who worked with Supervisor Avalos and advocates from the Bayview, Chinatown and the Mission to help craft San Francisco’s local hiring policy. “This is a Christmas gift nearly 50 years in the making.”

Advocates visiting Mayor Newsom Wednesday had hoped that the mayor would come out from his office to greet them and sign the community’s local hiring law. Instead, however, they found the door to his office, Room 200, locked tight. Eventually Chief of Staff Steve Kawa emerged smiling – though he closed the door behind him – to accept the thousand colorful cards packed into two of Santa’s red bags.

On Thursday, Mayor Newsom announced he would neither sign nor veto local hire, saying, according to the San Francisco Chronicle blog City Insider, “he had reservations about parts of it and wanted the city to pursue reciprocity agreements with neighboring counties. Since his move was short of a veto, the measure will go into effect in 2011. …

“Even if Newsom had tried to kill the measure, his veto likely would have been overturned. A veto-proof majority of the board had approved the measure earlier this month on an 8-3 vote.”

A jubilant Supervisor John Avalos proclaimed victory Thursday evening on his Facebook page: “Get out your hammers, your levels and your measuring tapes. Local hire is the law of the land in Frisco!”

Brightline Defense Project is a non-profit civil rights advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and empowering communities. Brightline’s efforts have led to the prevention of a new power plant in Southeast San Francisco and increased employment opportunities for economically disadvantaged residents, particularly in the green jobs sector. Learn more at Executive Director Joshua Arce can be reached at Bay View staff contributed to this story.

4 thoughts on “Out-of-work San Franciscans descend upon City Hall with a special holiday request

  1. Robert Woods

    Congradulation, San Francisco have never had a community hiring policy since the old Model Cities Program for the Mission District and Bay View Hunters Point. That hiring practice was a healthy economic stimulus to the well being in the community. Please formulate a Community Ad Hoc Committee as a a watch dog to assure the success of San Franciscians first. Passing a law is one thing, enforcement is another. Formulate a 501-c-3 Non-Profit organization with full funding to crunch the numbers(Contract projection), follow the (Contract)bouncing ball and tract those on the jobs to assure its success. This will not work inside the Hiring Halls of the Unions, because of past sweetheart deals between Union and Management. This is the people opportunity, think about carrying your model to other cities in need of your expertise. God bless you Willie and Mary for your community service for little people.

  2. Rich Austin

    Connecting the dots….

    We hear it every day. States and the federal government are having to reduce funding for essential human services, (Some people call such services “entitlements”. The definition of “entitlements” is then twisted in order to frame such services as hand outs to the ‘undeserving’.) Those who do not agree that everyone is “entitled” to a decent job paying family-sustaining wages, adequate housing, health care, good public education, and security in retirement, are in league with labor-haters like the Heritage Foundation.

    According to a 2008 study by economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, the Iraq war will cost us $3 trillion and more. (They have since revised that figure to $4+ trillion.) Other respected economists, including Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, are in agreement with Stiglitz and Bilmes. Their findings can be accessed at:

    The report tells us that federal discretionary funding for states and municipalities is being reduced because federal funds are being diverted to prosecute two wars. The several trillion dollar Bush tax cuts for the rich have likewise taken their toll. Federal and state programs are going under-funded because money is being siphoned-off by war profiteers and the top 5%.

    When there are downturns in the economy public workers, and especially unionized public workers, find themselves in the crosshairs. Publicly funded community agencies suffer the same fate. Incredibly, sadly, the bleating of groups like the Heritage Foundation are too often joined by working class antagonists. (It seems that as long as their ox isn’t being gored everyone else is fair game!)

    Connect the dots! War, tax breaks for the rich, and politicians beholden to the wealthiest 5% are crippling our economy! Worse, however, is the social and economic injustice that is harming the most vulnerable amongst us. Rather than addressing those national maladies, too many people are looking for the easy way out, and pubic employees and funding for essential human services are convenient targets.

    85% of Americans earn less than $100,000 per year (55% have incomes below $50,000). Isn’t it time for us to look out for one another rather than continuing to cede our power to a tiny fraction of super rich power brokers (and their stooges we call “lawmakers”)? A starting point is letter writing to newspapers as a way to change the national dialogue. Resolutions to city, county, and state governmental bodies is another. But make no mistake about it, more activism will be needed. As Frederick Douglas stated, “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation…want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters…. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”


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