The Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday unanimously supported a spending plan for the $124 million housing bond on the November ballot, but only after deadlocking on the contentious issue of how much union labor should be used on projects built with the money.
Labor groups had asked the council to pass guidelines requiring 30 percent of the jobs go to union workers — 20 percent union apprentices and 10 percent journeymen to train them — arguing that people building the housing should be able to afford to live in it.
But under pressure from business groups including those representing nonunion contractors, the council deadlocked 3-3 on the full 30 percent union requirement. Moments later it voted 6-0 to approve a plan earmarking 20 percent of the jobs for union apprentices — but no job guarantees for union journeymen.
The ideological impasse, which has been simmering for weeks, frustrated many of the council members and union members who attended the meeting. Mayor Chris Coursey said it was imperative that the disagreement not imperil the bond’s chances at the ballot box.
“We have failed to agree now as a group here in this room, but I think we can agree this ballot measure is good for everyone,” Coursey said after the vote.
It’s unclear how the compromise will sit with labor groups and whether it would fuel opposition to the bond, which would raise $124 million for a variety of affordable housing initiatives, including building new affordable housing, preserving existing housing and helping fire victims rebuild their homes.
“I’m deeply disappointed, but I’m not surprised,” said Jack Buckhorn, executive director of the North Bay Labor Council, which represents 30,000 workers in 71 unions.
Buckhorn and others argued that requiring 30 percent of workers to be unionized was simply a way to make sure workers were well trained, paid a good wage with benefits, and were able to live in a community that workers find increasingly difficult to afford.
“I never in a million years thought that we would be fighting at this point over the minimal standards that labor asked for their workforce,” Buckhorn said.
Buckhorn declined to say if the North Bay Labor Council would oppose the ballot measure, saying he needed to take the City Council’s action back to his board.
But some labor activists were outraged. Lisa Maldonado, who works for the California Nurses Association, berated Councilman Jack Tibbetts outside the hearing. She called him a “sellout,” accusing him of caving to threats by Keith Woods, executive director of the North Coast Builder’s Exchange, to run a campaign against the bond if the spending plan guaranteed 10 percent of the jobs would go to union journeymen.
But Tibbetts, as he did in the meeting, made it clear that any organized opposition would likely be able to torpedo the bond measure at the ballot box. Two-thirds of voters must approve the proposal in the Nov. 6 election for it to pass.
Tibbetts called it “unfortunate” that a “handful of local groups” had vowed to oppose the bond if it allocated 10 percent of the jobs to union journeymen, a position that forced his hand.