Michael Theriault headshot

This month’s Organized Labor reports (Page 5) on our opposition to a 276-unit residential development at 2000 Bryant Street. Other news outlets, the San Francisco Chronicle and Business Times among them, have reported this opposition as a surprise.

It shouldn’t be.

Despite the assertions of some – echoed happily by business interests and conservative politicians – that we live in a “post class” society, many workers still live by the labor of their hands and do not become rich. Even if now more engaged in services than in manufacturing, the working class is an ongoing fact, and we in the Building Trades are part of it.

The Mission has been home to the working class since its wood buildings first rose from filled marsh and alluvial plain. Trades members may not constitute as much of its population as we once did, but its working-class residents remain our brothers and sisters. While we do not oppose market-rate housing there on principle, we will always want to see it provide the maximum number of low- and middle-income units economically feasible.

The proposed project at 2000 Bryant, beyond offering fewer low- and middle-income units than we believe it can and should, will replace working space for artists and for what is known by the Planning Department as “Production, Distribution, Repair” or “PDR” space – space for blue-collar work – with ground-level parking. Its developer has publicly stated that he can’t afford to build the project all-union.

His project would not do its share to keep working families, work, or artists in the Mission, and it would pay many workers in its construction low wages with few if any benefits; thus we oppose it.

This suggests a natural coalition between affordable housing advocates, artists and their supporters, the Trades, and other worker advocates, and we have begun efforts to establish such a coalition for 2000 Bryant, with hope of extending its work to other projects in the Mission.

But we do so with eyes open: Coalitions are difficult to assemble, and even more difficult to hold together.

Organizations that normally advocate for affordable housing may be reluctant to alienate backers of the “Mission Moratorium,” the ballot measure that would ban permitting of any market-rate housing in the Mission for up to eighteen months. To join us in saying that a market-rate project should include more low- and middle-income housing would contradict the Moratorium by saying that market-rate housing is acceptable in the Mission under certain conditions.

Mayor Ed Lee has no viable opponent this November, but Heather Knight opined in the Chronicle (July 12), “There are several ballot measures [including the Moratorium] … that when taken together could be viewed as a referendum on Lee’s San Francisco, if not the mayor himself.”

Mission District Supervisor David Campos is termed out at the start of 2017. Candidates to replace him will certainly be judged on the basis of their position on the Moratorium; for some of its supporters this may be its primary purpose.

Even if partnering in a coalition with us results in a project that achieves high levels of low- and middle-income housing, that protects art studios and blue-collar workspace, and that provides decent wages and benefits in its construction, then, organizations may hesitate to do so because they view this partnership as affecting the fortunes of political candidates they support or oppose.

The Plaza 16 Coalition, which has endorsed the Moratorium, claims unions among its members: New United Healthcare Workers, Service Employees International Union Local 1021, United Educators of San Francisco. Other unions have told us they will probably back the Moratorium. How can unions and other worker organizations that have declared support for a measure absolutely prohibiting construction of market-rate housing in the Mission partner with us in an effort to make a market-rate project produce more low- and middle-income housing?

If we do find partners for our own coalition, we then have the task of keeping it together. Our demand on behalf of the Building Trades in any negotiation with a developer is simple: The project must be built all-union. We would not entertain compromise. We simply do not believe the developer’s assertions that he can’t afford to meet this demand.

The artists and affordable housing advocates with whom we might partner in a negotiation on 2000 Bryant or other projects will likewise be entitled to disbelieve a developer’s claim that their demands are economically infeasible.

This will present us a fundamental choice: Do we stand absolutely behind their demands, or do we urge compromise despite accepting none ourselves? If we urge compromise, would our coalition remain intact?

Although thousands of Trades members live in San Francisco, our numbers here are not what they were in generations past. Given the City’s deficit of middle-class housing, even our present numbers are tenuous. To keep work coming and keep it union, we will increasingly be obliged to assemble coalitions.

Whatever may result from the effort to do so for 2000 Bryant, it is the kind of effort we must undertake, and at which we must become skilled.

Organized Labor


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