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The final tally — 16,250 votes in favor of unionizing and 1,925 against — was one of the largest such votes in years. No wonder the generally pro-labor Democrat with mayoral aspirations was on hand.
Unfortunately, in the eyes of some labor supporters, Zev was also at the MTA meeting the very same day, where he helped to otherwise dispose of another unionization issue in a somewhat different way. Yaroslavsky was one of the board majority that voted against recognizing a new MTA supervisors’ unit of the American Federation of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Very interestingly, our Republican Mayor Dick Riordan voted to recognize the new unit.
AFSCME organizers had gathered the "card checkoffs" of 74 percent of the 500 employees in the unit. Traditionally, a "card check" majority of employees automatically leads to an election. But it’s become recent union policy to try to organize employees on card checks alone: The reason usually given is that management can and often will pay millions to outside anti-union experts in order to derail such an election.
Yaroslavsky was swift to dismiss the possibility of the MTA’s pulling such a move on AFSCME. "That’s not going to happen here; I’d support the employees if they were being harassed. This isn’t some right-wing corporation in Peoria," he said. He added, though, that he deeply wants the MTA workers to have an election, not just be recognized by virtue of their having signed cards.
But a three-quarters majority of all targeted employees clearly wants AFSCME representation. So why bother?
Responded Yaroslavsky, "Why are they so frightened of an election? [It’s] the fairest way to go." He observed that the entire card-check campaign was organized on the promise of an election.
The supervisor, who to the best of my knowledge has never been a union member, compared the union card-check organizing process to the petition-gathering phase in a typical municipal election. "This is like a black-and-white issue to me. This is no different than [signing] a petition for a candidate and still having the right later to vote against [that] candidate."
Yaroslavsky also noted that his office got some calls from MTA employees who said that they also wanted to see the AFSCME organizing effort go to a full election. "They were outraged" at the card-check approval prospect, he added.
Regardless of his rationale for it, Yaroslavsky’s MTA "nay" vote may cost him some friends in the camp of organized labor: These are friends he can’t have too many of if he squares off against Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa and City Attorney James Hahn — both blatantly pro-labor candidates — in the 2001 mayor’s race. (Villaraigosa also showed up to receive plaudits at the home-care workers’ rally last Friday.) As one vexed AFSCME member put it last week, "Zev screwed us but good." The member said that the issue was increased expense and time to a hard-pressed union, as well as the risk to the organizing effort so far.
Other observers, more charitably, attributed Zev’s attitude to his innocence regarding the usual hardball techniques of modern labor organization. Certainly, the common labor-election-certification procedures are quite different from — and generally far more onerous than — primary and general elections in most U.S. jurisdictions. As former AFL-CIO organizing director Richard Bensinger noted in 1996, "If the National Labor Relations Board’s procedures were applied to national elections, George Bush would still be president."