by Steve Zeltzer, KFPA WorkWeek Radio
On Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, the second San Francisco Board of Supervisors audit hearing will be held on racial discrimination in City jobs. The public is urged to attend the press conference on the City Hall steps at 12:30 and the hearing in the Board Chambers beginning at 3 p.m.
The first hearing on Sept. 19, 2018, brought literally hundreds of workers to the Supervisors’ Chambers and the overflow room. Dozens testified that they had faced numerous instances of racist discrimination and retaliation and even physical assaults by city managers.
The hearings were forced on the supervisors by a growing movement of African American workers in many classifications who have been prevented from being promoted, held in temporary positions while white and other workers were promoted, and then retaliated against for whistleblowing.
Brenda Barros who is the SEIU 1021 San Francisco General Hospital chapter chair had been working for years as well to organize against workplace bullying which has reached epidemic proportions not only in the City and County of San Francisco but throughout the country. While there are no laws against workplace bullying in California as of yet, Barros and others were able to include protection against bullying in the SEIU 1021 union contract. Protests supported by Barros and others were held at SF General Hospital and also at SF City Hall to protest the discrimination and systemic bullying particularly against African American workers but also Asian workers.
This, however, is a very old story in San Francisco. Under previous Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is the new governor of California, transit workers of TWU 250a who had a large percentage of African American members came under a concerted political attack by Newsom after they rejected concession contracts three times. Newsom went on a virtual vendetta against the mostly African American workers, hiring a special human resources consulting company to harass and frame-up African American cable car drivers and other members of the union in an effort to intimidate them.
He was also supported by the SF Labor Council leadership. Council head Tim Paulson complained that the union members should have accepted the concession contract and this was causing problems for the rest of labor. As a result of these attacks on the TWU 250a members, they even pulled out of the San Francisco Labor Council. They returned only this year with new leadership.
This also coincided with the growing privatization and outsourcing of public worker jobs to outside “non-profit” agencies that have taken over more and more of the public work in the City.
Even Salesforce has gotten in on the act and has captured many contracts of different agencies computer work in San Francisco that were formerly done by SF city workers.
This outsourcing and privatization of public service jobs have more and more radically affected the providing of these services. In the Department of Public Health with a budget of over $2.1 billion, more and more outsourcing is taking place and African American workers who serve African American patients are being targeted for discrimination and retaliation.
African American nurse Theresa Harris, who was illegally removed from her job by the Department of Public Health (DPH) and Human Resources Director Micki Callahan, was a whistleblower who reported on the failure to have proper staffing and against bullying of the staff by managers and some workers. Harris has filed a grievance and is still waiting to get her job back in DPH.
One of the workers targeted for retaliation and whistleblowing is Cheryl Thornton, who has been working as a health care community worker for over 28 years at the Potrero Hill Healthcare Center. This was set up as a result of a grassroots campaign to get healthcare for many of the Hunters Point Bayview residents who have been contaminated over decades by the highly radioactive dump known as the Hunters Point Shipyard. Over 50 percent of the children in that community have asthma and there has been a serious cancer problem for many years, including the shipyard workers who worked at the dump and workers who were involved in cleaning it up.
Under former Mayor Willie Brown, plans were made to develop the shipyard with million dollar condos and tell the residents and SF city workers that everything was safe. In fact, Willie Brown and his City Health Department allowed the establishment of a police training facility not only at the Hunters Point Shipyard but Treasure Island which is highly polluted with toxins and radioactive material.
One of the arrangements that Willie Brown made was to allow the developer and largest homebuilder in the United States, Lennar, to pay the cost of an environmental engineer to monitor cleanup. This continues under Mayor London Breed. Amy Brownell, who works for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, is still paid by Lennar.
According to Cheryl Thornton, Brownell told residents and patients at the clinic that they were not really getting sick from the radioactive and other toxins at the Shipyard but instead were stressed out from worry.
At a recent meeting, Brownell was still telling the community that in fact the shipyard was completely safe and was continuing to defend the billion-dollar development that is supported not only by Willie Brown but the entire Democratic Party structure. This includes former mayor Gavin Newsom, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi – Newsom’s cousin and Pelosi’s nephew, Laurence Pelosi, headed real estate acquisitions for Lennar – Dianne Feinstein, whose husband, Richard Blum, planned to build condos there, and then-District Attorney Kamala Harris who later became California attorney general when the clean-up company Tetra Tech whistleblowers were being bullied and fired for reporting the falsification of the billion-dollar clean-up project.
The San Francisco Bay View newspaper has been covering this dangerous site and the cover-up for decades with writers like Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai and Carol Harvey, who has been covering the serious contamination and cancers at Treasure Island.
Cheryl Thornton, who was also a shop steward in SEIU 1021, became a whistleblower over financial problems at the center and she was illegally discharged even though she had made a whistleblower complaint with the city. She also had to get her own lawyer to win her job back.
Her work was to coordinate the center and also to make sure that people in the community were aware of the clinic and would get care there. At one time she had over 4,000 patients at the clinic.
Thornton and the Community Advisory Board were also concerned about the systemic problems with staffing at the clinic. Appointments were being canceled and patients were waiting for hours and hours.
At the same time, the City and County in collaboration with contractors, are privatizing and driving out the poor, mostly African American residents not only in Hunters Point Bayview but also in Potrero Hill, which has become a haven for multi-millionaires who want great views. With the support of the Clinton administration and the Democrats, Potrero and other public housing in San Francisco has been privatized and is now run by companies like John Stewart and others who use the rules to remove poor African American residents with the ultimate aim to convert them to high priced condos.
Some residents even report they are being offered $10,000 to give up their housing rights if they permanently leave public housing. This of course in the housing market in San Francisco and, for that matter, the Bay Area would only last two or three months, and then many of these residents would end up homeless like tens of thousands of other people in the Bay Area.
Thornton began to make these connections and after winning her job back she was illegally ordered to a call center job without any due process. Department of Public Health Director Barbara Garcia was challenged; through the efforts of Thornton and Barros, a rally was held in front of DPH. The workers went in and met with Barbara Garcia, who admitted that she actually knew that there was bullying and discrimination going on for years.
Months later, Garcia was removed by SF Human Resources Director Micki Callahan for alleged financial improprieties without any further investigation by the DA and the City. The San Francisco Labor Council after a major battle also passed a resolution backing Thornton and charging the City with systemic racism. While the city now has agreed to take Thornton back to work, they are demanding to remove her previous duties and station a manager at the job to watch her do her work.
Another aspect of this ongoing crisis in the city has been the escalating number of lawsuits and settlements for workers who have been illegally discharged for racial discrimination, bullying and whistleblowing about financial mismanagement. Two doctors at Laguna Honda, Derek Kerr and Maria Rivera, exposed financial mismanagement by the CEO and instead of the city taking action against the CEO they bullied and fired both of these doctors and they were forced to pay Dr. Kerr over $700,000 and issue a formal apology. The city, however, continued not only to not hold these top managers accountable but to promote many of them after paying out millions in settlements.
Patrick Monett-Shaw, who is a journalist and former city worker, did a study on these settlements and found that over the last 10 years over $70 million has been paid out in settlements to workers, their lawyers and for lawyers defending the City and County of San Francisco.
The first hearing raised some of these systemic issues yet there has been no action as yet to hold SF Human Resources Director Micki Callahan accountable for the systemic racism and illegal retaliation against African American workers and whistleblowers. The new mayor London Breed, of course, is fully aware of this systemic racism in the city since she and other SF supervisors approved these $70 million dollars in settlements without demanding that previous mayors hold those managers accountable for taking illegal actions.
Her action in the case of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA), which has a history of sexual harassment and bullying of women workers, was to hire an outside consultant at over $200,000 a year to “fix” the problem. The question one has to ask is why both she and the rest of the Supervisors have allowed this to continue for decades and why Human Resources Director Micki Callahan is still on the job.
Part of this answer is that Callahan, besides having a record of systemic discrimination and racism against employees, is also involved in the outsourcing and privatization of millions of dollars of work. The San Francisco Civil Service Commission, which votes on these contracts, has done the bidding of mayors who want consultants to take more and more of the public work.
Micki Callahan and the DPH are also presently seeking to outsource the pharmacy at SF General Hospital now newly named Zuckerberg Hospital. The SEIU 1021 nurses are also demanding that Zuckerberg’s name is removed from the hospital as well as moves toward complete privatization of the healthcare system.
Recently even the billionaire owner of Salesforce, Marc Benioff, supported a small tax on corporations making over $50 million a year. This is supposed to bring in over $300 million a year and the initiative was opposed by Mayor London Breed, state Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblyman David Chiu.
Although the mayor now says she will support it since it won by over 60 percent of the vote, it is likely that the funds will not be going to public workers but to outsourced private workers who make $16 an hour, which is a starvation wage in San Francisco.
Nationally, the outsourcing of public service jobs and public education jobs has been driven by the same racist forces that wanted segregation. This privatization and outsourcing have been a direct attack on African American, Latino and other populations who have been able to get public jobs after many decades of discrimination and racism.
Public jobs have provided security and public union rights, which are all undermined when jobs are outsourced and privatized. Those benefiting, of course, are the companies who cut wages and healthcare benefits of the workers while providing a lesser service.
Charters have been used to desegregate the schools and, in San Francisco, the Fisher family, which owns the GAP corporation, has set up the Rocketship school chain and the KIPP school chain to bust up public education. The Malcolm X Academy in Hunters Point was recently forced to accept a KIPP charter school on its campus, disrupting the education of the children and competing with a public school of mostly African American children who have been improving their skills. On the board of the San Francisco KIPP charter school is billionaire Doris Fisher, who with her husband founded KIPP and Rocketship.
The United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) did support a rally against this co-location of the KIPP school and the public Malcolm X Academy and spoke at the SF School Board meeting, but the pro-charter school superintendent approved it surreptitiously before the community could rally.
The efforts of public workers in San Francisco and nationally to fight against systemic racial discrimination, workplace bullying and outsourcing and privatization is obviously intertwined and, as has been the case in San Francisco, the connection, while hidden, is critical in understanding the economic and social forces behind this agenda. A petition has been launched to remove HR Director Micki Callahan – please sign it HERE – and the issue of accountability of officials who have violated the law will be part of the agenda of San Francisco public workers.
Steve Zeltzer and the Labor Video Project can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to his WorkWeek Radio show every Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. on KPFA.