In Q&A Session, Political Director Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi Illuminates Fresh Strategy for SBCTC in Sacramento and Beyond

By Jacob Bourne | contributing writer

In August, the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California (SBCTC) took a strategic leap forward in creating its very first political department.

Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi, SBCTC’s inaugural political director, brings with him a wealth of experience from his tenure as the political head for the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council. His transition to this pivotal role aligns with Chris Hannan’s tenure as SBCTC president; Hannan was the building trades’ executive secretary under whom Jitahidi served in L.A./O.C.

As the state’s political fabric has grown ever more complex and demanding, the SBCTC has recognized the need to fortify its strategy in Sacramento. This spurred the establishment of the SBCTC’s dedicated political department, designed to spearhead focused political maneuvers across the Golden State.

While the legislative department will persist in its essential lobbying endeavors at the State House, this fresh division is poised to champion local affiliates’ political ambitions throughout California.

The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Organized Labor: What are the political department’s primary goals, and how do they build on the SBCTC’s past efforts?

Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi: Many of our battles are being fought not just at the worksite, not just locally, and not just regionally, but at the state and federal levels. Our opponents would like to see a world where all construction is non-union, and they’re spending big money to make it happen. Politics is no longer optional for us. Our opponents are coordinated on regional, state, and national levels. We have to at least equal their efforts, if not exceed them. A lot of our current leverage comes from the fact that we currently have the most pro-building-trades president, arguably, in the history of the United States in the White House. California just happens to neighbor two of the swing states that will end up defining who becomes the next president. That’s something that the SBCTC will have to address with our local affiliates. We can’t sit it out. So, while we’re doing great work passing local bonds, school bonds, and infrastructure bonds and getting pro-labor mayors elected, we also need to get President Joe Biden reelected. In addition, we have a governor’s race coming up in 2026. We need to ensure that we have the right person in office in Sacramento to move major legislation for our members.

OL: How will the new political department ensure that the diverse interests and needs of the affiliates are accurately represented and addressed at the state level?

KKJ: I’m an organizer by training. I started off as a union field organizer, knocking on doors, talking to folks in the community. That’s the essence of how I approach my work. My goal is to meet with all 20 of our regional building trades councils by mid-October. My work plan has to be based on the local needs of our affiliates. This department is designed to serve them. I’m here to build a department that gives all of our affiliates maximum leverage at local, regional, and state levels so that we can make sure that our jobs are protected and expanded. The political department will serve as a hub for information, providing affiliates with essential political and election data. While some of our affiliates already manage their campaigns, we recognize that other affiliates need more support. Rather than dictate campaign strategies, though, our role is to offer training and ensure that all affiliates, regardless of their current capabilities, have access to the resources required to succeed in local races.

OL: What are the most pressing challenges facing California’s building trades unions today?

KKJ: Despite our relatively union-friendly state, we’re still under attack. For instance, many current efforts to address climate change ignore the building trades. There are folks who want to create regulations that’ll take away our jobs, and they don’t want us at the table. They don’t want to hear our voices. We’re not being seen as partners — we’re being seen as the problem. That can’t continue. We are 100% on board with building more housing. What we’re not on board with is expanding housing on the backs of workers who are being exploited, who don’t have a union contract, who don’t have a voice at the worksite, who don’t have quality healthcare, and who don’t have the right to collectively bargain their working conditions.

OL: What’s the political department’s plan for fostering relationships with organizations outside of the labor movement?

KKJ: Union political departments are oftentimes the mechanism allowing us to be in contact with non-union people. So, when we get out the vote, we’re not just talking to union members. We’re talking to people in the community. We’re knocking on doors and talking to people who don’t know our world at all. It’s those small moments on the front porch or on the phone or in exchanging text messages during a political campaign when we get a real chance to educate people about who we are. I always run campaigns with that in mind. The other thing I’d say is that we have a history of building great coalitions when it comes to elections. Elections are often our greatest opportunity to build coalitions with other organizations in a practical way.

Organized Labor


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