Targeting Troublesome Women: A New Alliance of Polluters, Developers & Trades Unions Attacked Social Justice & Environmental Candidates in 2018 California Elections

Posted on January 9, 2019



Social Media Ad Buy by Working Families, an SBCTCC Backed PAC Founded by Valero ENergy in Benicia

I did a few deep dives into the institutional attack on Oakland’s District 6 council person, Desley Brooks this election season. Beginning early in the year, Libby Schaaf and her allies in both city government and local media dug deep into Brooks and hit bone, manufacturing, inflating and exploiting at least two scandals with lots of help from media enablers exploiting misognynoir tropes. This was followed by an unprecedented flow of money wrangled by Schaaf-allied developers, affluent Schaafites and regional trades unions in two separate independent expenditure committees. The combination was impossible to overcome and Brooks subsequently lost the election.

Regional trades and construction unions raised unprecedented money to oust Brooks, and that’s well-documented. Almost every major trades-union that gave money in the 2018 election cycle in Oakland invested more money in the anti-Brooks PACs than they did to any single candidate they supported. But the marshalling of union forces against a local candidate went well beyond the District 6 race. Trades Unions and their regional councils went in petty and heavy against candidates, who, like Brooks, broadcast their intention to create more local control of the industries these regional unions derive bread and butter dollars from.

Statewide in race by race examples, the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California–a representative political affairs coordination body for these trade and construction unions–used its regional members’ cash to wrangle outcomes in small fiefdoms not at all accustomed to big pockets and dirty tricks. Though individual unions were involved regionally, SBCTCC–which collects funds from dozens of unions statewide to fund their political PAC ops–was a unifying factor against candidates in at least two other California races. They rallied and organized union locals into the funding against these candidates and some were the same locals that stacked their funds against Brooks.

In Oakland, Benicia and the 58th Assembly district [comprised heavily of Latino portions of suburban Los Angeles County] SBCTCC arrived with unprecedented funds, robocalls, mailers and push polls. The SBCTCC and its members did not bother trying to hide their alliances: energy corporations in Benicia and 58th Assembly District; and in Oakland, the market rate super-heated construction sector. In Benicia where Valero Energy’s plant casts a large shadow, SBCTCC was the major donor to Valero’s PAC dedicated exclusively to beating city council candidate, Katie Birdseye. In the 58th Assembly District, SBCTCC coordinated and heavily funded an anti-Cristina Garcia PAC, using hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising and mailers against Garcia. In Oakland, the SBCTCC joined its constituent members’ donations to Jose Dorado’s PAC, adding funds those unions had contributed to SBCTCC for their statewide campaigns to bolster the attacks on Desley Brooks. The appearance of one Concord-based union’s money in both the anti-Garcia and anti-Brooks’ PAC suggest that SBCTCC was also involved in a fair amount of organizing and direction of funds. And it’s clear that in every case, these unions attacked women candidates with strong social justice profiles.

Benicia City Council Candidate Kari Birdseye:

Benicia’s city council race stands out for the unprecedented money that was brought to bear against a first-time candidate. On paper, environmentalist Kari Birdseye is far from an eco-radical, having worked for the mainstream EarthJustice, and then several years on Benicia’s Planning Commission. Birdseye ran on a fairly typical progressive Democrat platform that included strengthening city oversight of Valero.


There’s no doubt that Valero initiated Working Families for a Strong Benicia to oppose Birdseye based strictly on fears of the bolstered city oversight Birdseye suggested. And its clear that SBCTCC got involved in the PAC on behalf of the unions that work in Valero’s spectrum of the energy sector. The PAC raised 195k from unions to ensure Birdseye’s loss–an almost unheard level of funds in a city election involving only 28,000 residents. Working Families spent the funds on an extraordinary gamut of electoral tricks to ensure Birdseye’s loss–push polls, phonebanking, canvassing, robocalls, and mailers.


A Push Poll Commissioned by Working Families PAC Directly Targetting Kari Birdseye

SBCTCC donated over 40k of those funds, the most of any single contributor, including Valero. SBCTCC and other regional trades unions act was naked and impossible to characterize in any other way–it was a political pirate expedition free of principles against a candidate with a substantial history of fighting climate change and corporate pollution.

Cristina Garcia, Incumbent in the 58th Assembly District:

Though Assembly Person Cristina Garcia struggled with her share of scandal, she also sits on the state’s resource board. Garcia is a typical Democratic party booster of mainstream environmental regulation, but has also gone further, linking climate degradation to its impacts on communities of color. SBCTCC undertook a similarly unprincipled but even more robust attack on Garcia in the 58th Assembly District, founding a behemoth PAC to unseat the incumbent and donating 250,000 dollars to it, which made it the largest single donor to the PAC. Working Californians Against Corruption Opposing Cristina Garcia[…] was run by SBCTCC and raised over a million dollars specifically to defeat Garcia and it was almost entirely from construction and trades unions.


Working Californians gave Garcia the business with a a relentless $900,000 worth of mailers, radio and newspaper ad buys, robocalls, social media ad buys, calls, canvassing and research. Though SBCTCC claimed in its parallel public relations attack that the scandals were their main concern, it’s just not credible, especially given their attack on Benicia’s Birdseye. Clearly, SBCTCC’s main bone with Garcia was her environmental platform and rhetoric.


On the day it founded the anti-Cristina Garcia PAC, State Building and Construction Trades Council paid for a full page ad in the LA Times, portraying environmental concerns as an anti-worker project of “ivory tower elites”


SBCTCC subsists on donations from its member trade unions across California. If the individual northern california union locals that attacked Desley Brooks had any reservations about how their money was spent by SBCTCC elsewhere–as direct contributions to the anti-Garcia and anti-Birdseye PACS, for example–they didn’t make it known. Sheet Metal Workers 104 which contributed to the anti-Brooks PAC, gave SBCTCC over 30k all the way through Garcia’s mid-year primary election day and beyond to the Benicia and Oakland election in November–likewise, Sprinkler Fitters 483 gave tens of thousands.


And in one sign among many that the attack on Garcia was, like the attack on Brooks, purely on behalf of the corporate industries they work in, The United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 342, headquartered in Concord, donated to both the PAC against Brooks and the PAC against Garcia.


In all, and in various levels of coordination, local industry-dependent unions spent well over a million dollars in defenseless districts to rig the outcome in the favor of their favored corporate benefactors and to the detriment of local residents. Garcia survived the assualt, but both Brooks and Birdseye lost their respective elections. There’s no doubt that the SBCTCC’s expenditures played a great role in those defeats.


A Representative of SMW 104 argues that the city should include PLA’s for all Public Lands sales. SMW 104 donated significant $ to oust Desley Brooks, and to State Building and Construction Trades Council, which started and funded two PACS against environmental-branded candidates in California

As both climate change and gentrification leave the niche and become increasingly mainstream electoral concerns–these local trade unions are stepping up their game. Perhaps just as disturbing is the level of misdirection that the Trades unions relied on  based on their reputation as social benefit. The smearing and personal attacks camouflage their self-interested connection with polluters and gentrifiers. Like the residents of District 6, the voters in these areas are simply in the unions’ way.

Posted in: Uncategorized