In the Union’s Dog House

The silhouette of San Leandro School Board President Morgan Mack-Rose. Her comments Dec. 21 critical of the city employee contracts raised the eyebrows of some union members.

By Steven Tavares

Members of the San Leandro School Board like to preface their comments to other government body’s by acknowledging their forthcoming words are theirs and not those of the same person, otherwise known as the school board trustee. Trustee Mike Katz uses this linguistic hula hop as does Board President Morgan Mack-Rose. Mayor-elect Stephen Cassidy also used it last week when he urged the city council to hold off voting on two city employee contracts. As if speaking as a private citizen is any different than the same person giving their opinion on the chamber dais.

Of course, doing so, gives each some wiggle room, if needed, in the future. The beginning of the Cassidy era in San Leandro was auspicious in many ways. An outsider in the mayor’s office and the skirmishes likely to follow with the city’s status quo, but it also provided a rare and visible pivot point in the where many local pols stand on one issue: unions.

For the city’s employee unions, last week’s vote on their new two-year contracts, asked “are you for us or against us?”

The San Leandro Police Officers Association already pegged Cassidy as public enemy #1 last October, but others have emerged from their recent comments. Mack-Rose not only employed the dual-personality preface, but also told the council she may not understand the contracts, but nevertheless, found problems with them, specifically the drop in furlough days from 12 to 6. The act was similar to an old Saturday Night Live skit featuring Phil Hartman as the thawed-out caveman who becomes a lawyer. “I’m just a caveman,” the lawyer used to punctuate his argument to the everyman jury. One union rep smiled knowingly after her comments. The large of group of union members at the council chambers guffawed when one opponent portrayed them as high-priced government workers.

Others were justifiably quiet over the contracts, but their inaction spoke volumes. Councilmember-elect Pauline Cutter strode a fine line between alienating her union support during the campaign, but she popped her head on the pro-pension reform side too often. Her call, along with Cassidy, to hold off on the contracts raised eye-brows along with Councilwoman Ursula Reed, who abstained on the basis of showing the two in-coming members the confidential labor negotiations. Reed said she fears no retribution from unions in the future and said she supports the new labor contracts. Councilmembers Jim Prola, Joyce Starosciak, Michael Gregory and even outgoing Mayor Tony Santos, conversely, all said the right things to union brass.

While the political scene may have been jumbled recently with the election of Cassidy, one bromide continues to exist: you can’t expect much of a political future in this city without sustained union support. It’s the reason Katz did not dare voice an opinion on the union contracts, even at the urging of his wife.

Dominic Dutra
FREMONT’S HIRED GUN? Stephen Cassidy is not the only white knight hoping to save city finances by forcing the unions to pay. Fremont’s newest city councilmember is hoping to achieve the same trick.

When Fremont City Council approved former member Dominic Dutra to replace Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski earlier this month, the appointment likely sends a message to the city employee unions who are due to negotiate contracts in 2011. Fremont, like almost every Bay Area city is struggling with budget shortfalls.

Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman told the Oakland Tribune, “When we have to tackle very tough budget problems, he won’t shy away,” Every member except Councilman Bill Harrison named Dutra as their first choice. Dutra says he will not seek re-election in 2012, but power has a way of changing minds.