THE DISTRICT 190 SPARKPLUG
On Tuesday, November 3, 1998, voters in San Jose’s District 3 elected Cindy Chavez to represent them in City Council. Formerly on the staff of the South Bay Labor Council as Director of Education and Organizing, Cindy is a member of Local 1101.
This was seen as an important victory for labor, as the San Jose City Council recently voted for the nation’s highest living wage provisions, and had stopped an anti-union Super K from opening.
The Sparkplug interviewed Cindy to find out how it feel to go from union activist to elected official.
SP: What made you decide to run for
CC: I had worked on so many other people’s campaigns over the years, but I was often disappointed to see that once we — in labor —helped
CC: My main goal is to bring all the communities into city hall. The neighborhoods in the downtown area have been marginalized. I want to
Pickets support union cause as they earn their way out of shelters.
me they respond heavy. SP: How was the race? Who was your opposition? CC: The race was much harder than I get them elected, Rather than back- ing another candi- date, I decided to become one, so I could do the right thing. expected. Business lined up against didn’t to us. My opponent, Tony West, is a federal prosecutor, so crime was his big issue. It became a fight between the working class and non-working class. It was very challenging, but absolutely worth it. SP: Was support from labor impor - tant to your victory? What did union members do? CC: Labor was the backbone of my campaign. They walked precincts and did phone banking. They were gracious, helpful, and never let me hang out there by myself. But then it’s also hard to be dubbed the “labor candidate,” because that probably helped my opponent line up $25,000 in donations from business, well out- spending the $10,000 I raised. San Jose’s new city council member Cindy Chavez SP: What kind of advice do you have for other union members who want to run for office? CC: Get involved in your communi- ty and in your union. An excellent place to start is with your Labor Council’s political program, because you’ll see how the process works. position of power CC: I ran out of concern that unions maintain their influence on the peo- ple they help get elected. Unions have to keep open communication and plan regular meetings to educate elected officials—before issues become crises. When you’re in the midst of a fight, it’s hard for either side to be open-minded, especially when everyone is pointing fingers in each others’ faces. open the democrat- ic process and make sure every- body has a say-so. I’m also very con- cerned about eco- nomic develop- ment, and making the neighborhoods the best places they can be. SP: What advice do you have for labor unions, now that you’re in a ?
lizabeth Murray was stuck in a homeless shelter trying to make ends meet when she happened upon a picket at 5th and Brannan in San Francisco. She saw friends from the shelter there and wondered if she could join the line. E
That was last August. She has since been earning $8 an hour working as a full-time picket for Local 1414.
Murray came to San Francisco after getting flooded out of Lodi. But until she learned about the picket positions, the city of opportunity seemed limited to life in the shelter. Elizabeth has since “made a lot of friends on the line, and the money is good.”
According to organizer Steve Gatto, the local went to St. Vincent de Paul to find people who wanted to work. “We started with 90 pick- ets, but over time, they weeded themselves out. Now we have 45 full-time people.”
Jose Ponce has been a picket for four months. A musician by trade, he likes the work because it offers him the flexibility to pick up his kids after school.
Henry Inocencio had been serv- ing time, but now he’s serving the union. “It’s a just cause. We’ve got to get these people back to the bar- gaining table.”
Bobby Dansby thinks “this is the best thing that could happen. It’s really helped our lives.” Dansby has been living in a shelter, but this work gives him an opportunity to save for an apartment.
Picket captain Ricky Freeman has been running the lines for six months. A printer by trade, he tries to keep morale up and keep the line moving. He’s in charge of schedul- ing and dealing with problems. “I try to make it feel like a family. Once a week we all chip in and buy lunch and sodas together.”
According to Freeman, “this country was built on unions. It’s important for us to help keep them around.”
Robert Mills has his own place now, thanks to five months of picket work. Mills knows “it could be worse. I enjoy doing this because we really get along.”
Bobby Smith knows he’s working on something positive, and “this keeps me out of trouble. I learn something every day, and this is much better than hanging out on a street corner.”
Local 1414 is currently running picket lines at Royal Motors in San Francisco, Golden Gate Volkswagen in Daly City, Menlo Mazda and Towne Ford, both in Redwood City.
SHOP TALK: What’s the best thing about being a shop steward?
“Getting to go to the shop steward dinner!”
“I started 30 years ago to keep an eye on the union. Now I know it’s an important way to be involved.”
“Getting a chance to control things. . .or at least have a hand in them.”
“I like to help our mem- bers and the people who work where I work.”
“It helps me keep in touch with my guys. I enjoy being able to work with them and the union.”