Antonio’s New Pals

Leaders of some of the L.A.’s most influential labor unions have expressed alarm at recent fundraising by the region’s biggest building owners for Antonio Villaraigosa and charge that the mayoral candidate has agreed to withdraw city support for union efforts to organize security guards in Los Angeles’ commercial office towers. Villaraigosa on Monday attended a fund-raiser at the Beverly Hills home of Arden Realty chief executive Dick Ziman, and met privately last month with Rob Maguire of Maguire Properties and Jim Thomas of Thomas Properties. Ziman, Maguire and Thomas are the most ardent leaders of an effort to combat SEIU Local 1877’s campaign to bring security officers into its union. “We are upset, highly disappointed, that Antonio has chosen to do this event with Dick Ziman of Arden Realty,” Local 1877 president Mike Garcia said. “We think it sends the wrong message to Mr. Ziman.” Garcia went further in an April 20 letter to SEIU national president Andy Stern, telling Stern that Villaraigosa had “cut a deal” with the three building owners. According to the letter, the building owners would arrange for $250,000 in independent expenditure contributions to back Villaraigosa, and the SEIU’s organizing drive would then be “dealt with.” Ziman said his fund-raiser, which generated money that reached “probably in the six figures,” was not part of an independent expenditure effort but was raised for Villaraigosa’s campaign. He said he had never discussed the security officers’ organizing effort with Villaraigosa and that no deal had been cut. “Quite honestly, whoever wins as mayor is going to have a close relationship with SEIU,” Ziman said. “No two ways about it.” Garcia’s letter to Stern requests financial help from SEIU’s national office to back Mayor Jim Hahn. It was signed by Julie Butcher of Local 347 (the largest City Hall employee union) and Tyrone Freeman of Local 434B (which represents homecare workers), as well as by Garcia. Garcia said he spoke with Villaraigosa after the candidate met with Thomas in mid-April, and that “he assured us, or attempted to assure us, that he will deal fairly with us.” Hahn lags 11 points behind Villaraigosa in the May 17 runoff. The mayor has been a strong supporter of 1877’s security officer organizing campaign and is backing a motion by Councilwoman Jan Perry to mandate a training and communication program for private security officers in Los Angeles — a program that would be governed by a board made up of SEIU 1877 leaders, city officials, and others. Building owners generally see the program as part of an effort to help the union get its foot in the door by drafting the standards by which even non-union officers would have to follow. Hahn’s chief of staff, Tim McOsker, said leading building owners and managers had met with the mayor early in the campaign and asked him to support alternate security measures that would not include 1877 oversight. “He declined,” McOsker said. Villaraigosa later won the support of Ziman — who was a Hahn supporter in 2001 and was a major backer of Bob Hertzberg in the March 8 primary — as well as Maguire and Thomas. One official close to the organizing effort said Villaraigosa had been asked by building owners not to block a possible alternate organizing effort, leaving a weaker security officers’ union that does not include the buildings’ janitors, who would remain in 1877. Twelve building owners have formed an organization called Building Owners and Managers Alliance for Safety to propose alternatives to the city’s plan. Martha Cox-Nitikman of the Building and Managers Association of Greater Los Angeles — a larger group — said there was no plan for owners to sponsor a competing union. Villaraigosa campaign spokesman Nathan James denied charges that the candidate has made any deals with building owners on organizing security officers. “When he meets with folks over the last few months he talks about what he wants to do in office,” James said. “Cutting a deal against organized labor is not what he wants to do in office.” Labor unions historically have been aligned closely with Villaraigosa. That’s especially true of Local 1877, which led the historic Justice for Janitors campaign that culminated in a successful and groundbreaking April 2000 strike. Villaraigosa, then Assembly speaker, was a fixture at Justice for Janitors events and helped rivet public attention on the plight of the low-paid immigrant workers. Garcia rallied union members behind Villaraigosa’s unsuccessful 2001 mayoral campaign and his successful 2003 run for City Council. But Garcia helped lead his own union and a majority of the locals that make up the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor away from Villaraigosa last year in favor of an endorsement for Hahn, in large part because of Hahn’s strong support for the security officers campaign. Latino immigrant janitors largely replaced African Americans in the 1970s and 1980s. The new blood reinvigorated a faltering labor movement but sparked resentment among the black workers who were pushed out of their jobs and out of organized labor. Commercial building security is one of the few service jobs still dominated by black workers, who Garcia said make up 65 percent of the tens of thousands of guards in the Los Angeles area. Organizing them as part of 1877 is a key strategy to reincorporate African Americans into the labor movement to build an interethnic alliance, as well as to better the lot of the officers. Maguire actually became a hero to 1877 during the janitors campaign when he criticized other building owners and the janitorial contractors for resisting the union’s demand for a $1 an hour raise. But he opposes the effort to include the security officers because, he said, it is poor public policy to allow public safety officers to join other building employees in the event of a strike. In fact, federal law prevents security officers from voting to join an existing union of other building employees for that reason. But the security officers can join through a card-signing campaign, and have done so in other large cities around the nation. Meanwhile, the entire labor movement is in the midst of a crisis, with Andy Stern of SEIU threatening to lead an exodus from the AFL-CIO. If it does leave, that could clear the way for a rival unit to compete to represent security guards.

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