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Proposals by Chiu, Wiener don’t measure up

While California’s longstanding housing crisis necessitates bold action on the part of politicians to expand the state’s housing supply, the San aFrancisco Building and Construction Trades Council’s leadership has had to ramp up advocacy for the protection of workers who will build that new housing.

Both Assemblymember David Chiu and State Senator Scott Wiener have introduced legislation this year aimed at increasing housing density in more suburban and rural parts of the state in order to increase housing supply, build more housing near transit and create more diverse, inclusive communities. With the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating the state’s preexisting housing crisis, there’s even more pressure on legislators to get housing built, including affordable housing and units for individuals who are experiencing homelessness.

Although both legislators have enjoyed the backing of the SFBCTC, recently proposed bills have shortcomings from a labor perspective. Chiu’s bill was retracted and SFBCTC officials hope that issues around Wiener’s legislation can be cleaned up as well.

“It’s a statewide issue and we need to make sure that our workers get the protections that they deserve when they’re building this housing,” said Larry Mazzola, Jr., SFBCTC president.

In January, Wiener introduced SB 902, which would allow for multiunit housing on historically single-family zoned parcels, which would also be exempt from a full environmental review process under CEQA.

Also earlier this year, Chiu introduced AB 3040, which encourages cities to up-zone single-family residential parcels to allow for up to four housing units per parcel and give local governments additional credits toward state-mandated housing goals for doing so. The bill targets vacant sites where residential development is permitted and would allow for the construction of duplexes or small apartment or condominium buildings on sites that would otherwise be used for single-family homes or commercial development.

“No matter what type of legislation and no matter what county it covers — I don’t care if you’re in Yolo County or if you’re in San Francisco County — if it doesn’t have workforce standards in it, we are not going to support it.”

– Tim Paulson
SFBCTC Secretary-Treasurer

Despite potential merits of the proposals, both pieces of legislation lack wage and benefit protections as well as training requirements for the construction workers who would turn planning concepts into tangible housing realities for families who need shelter, according to officials from the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council.

“If there are any pieces of legislation whether or not it’s local or state, we will not support it if there are no workforce protections, which include good training,” said Tim Paulson SFBCTC secretary-treasurer. “Any type of by-right legislation that doesn’t have workforce standards in it — we don’t accept it anywhere and in any case.”

“It’s unfortunate that some of our local legislators seem to slip on that issue,” Paulson added, “especially coming from a union town like San Francisco.”

Despite any political pressure to pass weaker legislation to get more housing built, Paulson contends that the Building Trades Council will not support any legislation that gives up on workers, many of whom share in the struggle to find affordable housing in the communities where they work. SFBCTC leadership had met with Chiu to clarify the issues with AB 3040, and that piece of legislation was subsequently retracted.

“To give David Chiu credit, we reached out to him and told him that the bill does not protect workers, so after some discussions he ended up pulling it,” said Mazzola, Jr. “The problem is that is that these politicians have it in their heads that outside of San Francisco in rural areas they can do these housing bills and try and push them through without the same labor protections.”

Mazzola, Jr. expects that SFBCTC leadership will also meet with Weiner in the coming weeks and he hopes that language requiring a skilled and trained workforce will be added to the legislation. “They just have to be more cognizant of our stance and I think that they are now,” he said.

Mazzola Jr. made it clear that Chiu and Wiener are just two recent examples of who are trying to get legislation passed that neglects workers.

“[State Building and Construction Trades Council of California] Robbie Hunter needs credit because he’s done a fabulous job trying to get these politicians to back off these bills unless they have our prevailing wage language and more importantly the skilled and trained workforce language, which we’re demanding,” Mazzola Jr. said.

He added that Hunter had reached out to the SFBCTC and local unions in places like Los Angeles and Fresno, asking for support in putting pressure on politicians who have advanced housing bills that do not have consideration for workers.

“No matter what type of legislation and no matter what county it covers — I don’t care if you’re in Yolo County or if you’re in San Francisco County — if it doesn’t have workforce standards in it, we are not going to support it,” said Paulson.

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