This guest column originally appeared in the most recent edition of Pipelines, the bimonthly newsletter of Plumbers and Pipefitters U.A. Local 38, a longtime affiliate of the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council.
California State Senator Scott Wiener and his sidekick, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks — both of whom Local 38 and the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council have supported in the past based on their well-documented support for our members — have decided to turn their backs on us. They’ve gone all-in with the leadership at the NorCal Carpenters Union and greedy developers to attempt to modify legislation to exclude a skilled-and-trained workforce requirement in future housing construction with their recently proposed State Bill 423.
This 2017 bill, sponsored by Wiener, is set to expire at the end of 2025. Even he has admitted it has worked well in building housing since its passage. It included as a requirement the use of a skilled-and-trained workforce in certain projects, but now, Wiener and Wicks have both proposed cutting that requirement from their revised SB 423.
“Californians have been very clear about their desire to see housing policies that actually get affordable housing projects off the ground,” said Andrew Meredith, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. “Senator Wiener appears to be taking a different approach, placating market-rate developers and leaving affordable housing seekers in the cold. Proponents' attempts to paint this as an affordable housing play are disingenuous. This is clearly all about putting more money in developer pockets.”
Along with the exclusion of a skilled-and-trained workforce, Wiener's proposal rolls back labor protections for workers, eliminates requirements for projects to comply with objective planning standards, and weakens requirements for projects to include much-needed affordable housing components.
As currently written, SB 423 offers the same streamlined housing approvals for market-rate housing as those granted to fully affordable projects and allows developers to divide projects into pieces and construct the market-rate component without requiring concurrent construction of affordable housing. Given this choice, it's easy to see that decisions by developers to start building affordable housing will take a back seat now that higher-profit market-rate housing can be built without the need for a skilled-and-trained workforce.
President of the SF Building Trades and Local 38 Business Manager Larry Mazzola Jr. explained this in greater detail:
“Streamlining the production of all phases of housing has become the new cool thing. Housing — especially in San Francisco — takes too long to go through the bureaucratic process of City Hall and the Department of Building Inspection before a shovel ever goes into the ground. Now some politicians are legislating new bills to ‘streamline,’ or skip, many or all steps to get housing built ASAP.
“Some of these streamlining ideas I agree with, but some are just a huge giveaway to developers and don't allow impacted neighborhoods to voice their concerns. There is no question we need more housing for the homeless, as well as low- and middle-income workers. But you can't just throw all the rules in the garbage. Some of them are there for a reason.
“There needs to be reform, but there also needs to be checks and balances and room for public input. Streamlining projects is a huge win for developers — millions of dollars’ worth. That's why we demand that skilled-and-trained language go into these streamlining bills — to protect the workers.
“The developers want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want the millions of dollars of savings on the front end and then want to pocket even more money by hiring non-union workers when they build these projects. I understand developers being greedy and wanting to pocket as much money as they can, even at the expense of workers, because most of them have been doing that since the beginning of time. What I don't understand are politicians who side with these developers and don't care about workers being exploited.
“State Senator Scott Wiener was supported by this very union for San Francisco supervisor and state senator. He has had a good track record with the building trades — until now. Last month, he held a press conference to introduce his SB 423, which would eliminate the existing safety and construction training standards on market-rate housing that were previously negotiated with the State Building Trades. He is trying to do this by eliminating the requirement of a skilled-and-trained workforce on residential housing projects.
“We saw this same thing play out last year when another developer champion, California Assemblymember Buffy Wicks of Oakland, introduced AB 2011 without the skilled-and-trained requirement for certain construction projects. It comes as no surprise that she is a principal coauthor with Wiener on SB 423. And, of course, the leadership at the NorCal Carpenters Union are throwing their full support behind this new bill because it will make it much easier for them to achieve their goal of stealing all the other building trades’ work.
“As I stated earlier, developers should not be able to put millions of dollars into their pockets by streamlining, and, in turn, simultaneously being able to hire out-of-state non-union contractors to build this housing. Politicians like Scott Wiener and Buffy Wicks should know better, but have obviously drawn a line in the sand with Local 38 and the building trades. Game on!
“The unions of the SF Building Trades Council, including Local 38, helped get Scott Wiener elected San Francisco supervisor and state senator. Now, he is selling out those very unions and workers. He and Buffy Wicks should never get the endorsement of any California building trades union ever again.”
We are left to assume that Scott Wiener has turned into one of those politicians who has made the decision to prioritize his political ambitions over the lives of the men and women in the building and construction trades.
“The announcement of SB 423 was yet another disappointing display of political theatre that does nothing to produce affordable housing,” said SF Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Rudy Gonzalez. “This is a distraction from the coalition work needed to win real solutions that will unstick projects in San Francisco.”
Wiener is very good at promoting himself as a champion of the labor movement, but by introducing SB 423, he has shown his true colors. He cares more about appeasing wealthy developers and the leaders at the NorCal Carpenters Union, who will donate to his likely future congressional run. In exchange, he is willing to betray all of the other labor unions in the building trades.
In our eyes, this is nowhere close to being the work of a labor champion.