Moose Feed photo

Two Regional Labor Behemoths Reunite, Break Bread Following Big Breakup Last Year

By Robert Fulton | contributing writer

Last month, members of the San Francisco Building Trades and the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council (a.k.a. the NorCal Carpenters Union) gathered with their supporters, friends, and associates for the 61st annual time-honored, food-fueled holiday tradition known as the Moose Feed.

First held in the middle of the last century, the event has grown into one of the Bay Area’s premiere labor gatherings. The historic significance of the Moose Feed’s founding, however, shouldn’t be overlooked: From go, the Moose Feed’s objective has been to facilitate the putting aside of differences and the breaking of bread among labor, management, and politicians.

That objective must have been on a lot of folks’ minds as they gathered at the SF Hilton on Friday, December 15, for Moose Feed 2023.

Decades of ever-increasing inter-labor fractiousness between the NorCal Carpenters and the SF Building Trades culminated in a series of political dust-ups in 2022 and ’23 that would ultimately prove irreconcilable. The final outcome was the disaffiliation of all carpenter and carpenter-aligned locals from the SF Building Trades Council last March.

So, while there was palpable uncertainty and tension leading up to 2023’s luncheon, attendees were relieved that it turned out to be the usual celebratory affair — if a bit tamped-down this time around.

“[The atmosphere] was one of somber remembrance but also excitement for the future,” said SF Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Rudy Gonzalez.

Burying the Hatchet (for the Day, at Least)

Something of a solemn mood indeed hung over this year’s Moose Feed. Judge C. Richard Bartalini, a long-time steward of the event and the son of one of its founders, died last November at the age of 94.

Bartalini’s family was raised with the Moose Feed as a core seasonal happening.

“It was really meaningful to hear from the family and to hear their perspective growing up,” Gonzalez said.

He acknowledged the tension between the building trades and the carpenters in recent years, with rifts stemming primarily from disagreements around housing legislation, among other fronts. He said the Moose Feed gathering might have been the first and only time various competing interests had been put together in the same room.

The building trades leader also offered this word of caution to anyone who might be slinking around in search of an opportunity to exploit disputes among labor groups: You’d better think twice.

“These disagreements are legitimate on all sides, but at the end of the day, the people who are willing to go to the mat for construction workers — it’s all of us,” Gonzalez said. “Carpenters and building trades workers alike will take that fight on together, and we’ll make it our No. 1 priority.”

IBEW Local 6 Business Manager John Doherty pointed out the fact that rancor in Sacramento or among labor leadership can often remain esoteric to the rank-and-file. That is to say: These scuffles don’t necessarily trickle down to building trades members, who generally remain focused on mastering their crafts and putting in a solid day’s work.

“Sometimes some of the beefs that we have don’t necessarily cross over to everybody,” Doherty said. “If you’re out in the field, you’ll care less about somebody’s petty politics. Everybody just wants to get home safely.”

Gonzalez noted that today’s disputes aren’t without precedent. They echo back to past conflicts and reinforce why the Moose Feed exists in the first place.

“I think it challenged everybody to think not just about what the Moose Feed has meant to them as people, but what the Moose Feed must have meant to its founders,” he said of the event. “For me, personally, it reminded me that these kinds of sore spots and bumps in the road are not actually new — that the carpenters and the other crafts have had differences and disagreements dating back to prehistory, really.”

A Surprise Guest

The luncheon has long been known for welcoming various elected officials, leaders in business and labor, and other VIPs. This year’s surprise guest arrived, unannounced, to a standing ovation.

It was none other than U.S. House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi. Gonzalez was smack-dab in the middle of his welcoming remarks when she made her entrance.

Naturally, he invited her to take his place at the podium without hesitation.

“When we see some of the problems that we have, we listen to each other,” Pelosi said. “We don’t agonize — we organize, we unionize.”

Gonzalez shared the sentiment with many in attendance that the congresswoman’s pro-union remarks were quite moving.

“It just confirms that despite all of the things Pelosi is tasked with doing and everything that she’s responsible for, she always represents the people of San Francisco first and foremost,” he said. “In contrast to people who treat the word ‘union’ like a four-letter one, she’s proud of what it represents, and she celebrates it with us.

“So, she got up and delivered a great speech. She realy fired up the crowd. People were just buzzing.”

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